New Book Release! Runaway Rock Star

I’m extremely late in making a post about my new book. Have had a lot of life stuff going on lately, but thankfully things are calming down a bit.

RunawayRockStarFS_v1Anyway, my latest book, Runaway Rock Star, came out last week (May 10), and it is a part of the States of Love series from Dreamspinner Press. A little background on the series for those who may not know what it is, the States of Love series is a series with one book about each state in the United States, all written by different authors.

My book is based in Ohio. Now I know a lot of people hear “Ohio” and think “boring” or “what the heck’s in Ohio?” And I admit at first I was like, um…what could I write about Ohio?

See, I have lived in Ohio all my life. Specifically, north central Ohio. So I am well acquainted with my state and what it looks and feels like. And so I was definitely like, gee, what’s exciting in Ohio? I think when you live in a place for so long you take it for granted and you often tend to focus on the negative after a while. All the things your city or state doesn’t have. “The grass is always greener” somewhere else.

In the short process (because the story came to me pretty quickly) of trying to decide what I could write about, I realized there are actually a lot of cool things about my state.

I think our most fun advantage is our size. In less than a day’s drive, you can drive from the northern most point to the southern most point. Or from the eastern border to the western border. Now, I know there are other states that can probably claim the same thing. But what we have within our borders makes us pretty unique I think, because we have a little bit of everything. We have cities and museums and theaters and any kind of big city culture you could want. Drive just a half-hour from any of our cities and you can experience small towns and farms and rural life. We have beautiful state parks to hike in the summer and fall, and snow mountain trails to ski in the winter. And all within a short drive of wherever you may live in the state. I actually wish I could have included more places in the story but the timeline of their trip limited my options.

And so my idea of basing the story around a road trip was born. In one extended Labor Day weekend, from a Thursday through Sunday, my two characters, Lucas Black and Brandon Harris make their way from Cleveland to Cincinnati–with some interesting detours along the way.

I did a blog tour that still has a few stops on it this upcoming week. I’m doing a giveaway of a $20 GC to the ebook retailer of the winner’s choice along with some Ohio-related items in a prize pack. Check out the blog links below to enter and also to read more about Ohio and the book:

Buy links:

Dreamspinner Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

 

Blog tour links:

May 10 My Fiction NookRunawayRockStar_Blog TourGraphic

May 11 Love Bytes Reviews

May 12 Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

May 15 Open Skye Book Reviews

May 17 The Novel Approach

May 18 Boy Meets Boy Reviews

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Happy Holidays Blog Hop!

author-happy-holidays-hop-2016

 

Happy Holidays everyone!!

We’re getting into the homestretch, only 8 more days til Christmas! It can be such a busy time of year, so much rushing and planning and shopping and baking. (yummm, well, at least there are benefits to baking–all those delicious cookies and other Christmas treats.)
If you celebrate a different holiday than Christmas, I hope you are not too harried and busy getting ready for your celebrations.

And if you’re reading this, then I hope that means you’ve been able to sit down and relax a little with the Blog Hop. I, myself am looking forward to checking out the other authors’ posts. I’ve barely had any time to read many Christmas stories this year, and I hope I can make up for that this week.

FallingForSantaClausSM 72DPIMy Christmas story is called Falling for Santa Claus, and it came out with Dreamspinner Press in July. It’s a totally fun, lighthearted tale of Jack and Nick and the quaint town of Great Falls where they live. An excerpt is posted below and the BEST part is the book is part of TWO great sales going on right now!

 

Today is the last day of a special two-day sale on the Dreamspinner site. You can get my book—and any book on the entire Dreamspinner site—for 30% off! Just click the image below.

dreamspinner-chocolate-websitebanner

 

If you miss the Dreamspinner sale, there is also a sale going on at Allromanceebooks.com for the rest of the month of December – 25% off Dreamspinner holiday books. (click the ad below)

dsp_december_splash

 

So there you go — lots of options to go shop some holiday sales for gifts for yourself. And better than that ugly knitted sweater from your great-aunt that you just know is under the tree with your name on it. 🙂

I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday! (And don’t forget to check out the other authors participating in the hop, below.)

1. Nicki J. Markus / Asta Idonea 2. Thianna Durston
3. Charley Descoteaux 4. L. J. LaBarthe
5. Alina Popescu Writer 6. V.L. Locey
7. Jo Tannah 8. Hot Men in Hot Water
9. A Little Bit of Naughty 10. Karenna Colcroft
11. Lou Sylvre: Romance Across the Rainbow 12. Samantha MacLeod
13. Sexy Erotic Xciting 14. Heloise West
15. Lila Leigh Hunter 16. Meg Harding
17. Louise Lyons 18. Grace Kilian Delaney
19. Vera’s Version 20. rainbow lyrics and mellow mushrooms
21. Dianne Hartsock 22. Ki Brightly
23. C. J. Anthony 24. Creating Character Connections
25. Putting Characters Together 26. Creating Magic Between Characters

 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Excerpt:

Sighing heavily, I groaned into a stretch as I shut the car off. I was so tired. I couldn’t wait to get inside and find a bed. Tomorrow the movers would arrive with the rest of my stuff, so tonight I needed a good night’s sleep.

My legs were stiff, and the cracking of two forty-three-year-old knees echoed loudly in the desolate stillness. I grimaced. Geez, I didn’t feel old enough to have body parts making creaky sounds already. Then again, I had been in the car a long time. When was my last pit stop? Somewhere in Upstate New York, maybe?

I stretched again, hands on my hips, twisting my back until I felt it crack in relief. After grabbing my duffel bag out of the back, I shut and locked the car door, then headed up the walkway to the front door.

“Stop right there!”

I jerked and dropped the keys on the front porch. The booming voice thundering through the quiet darkness behind me caused my heart to slam double time in my chest.

“Step away from the door.”

I raised my hands and turned around slowly. I didn’t know who the guy was, but at least he wasn’t wearing a cop uniform or carrying a gun. He did, however, have a baseball bat… held by two thick, sturdy arms. He was a tall, burly bear of a man with long wavy hair, and in the low light I caught the beginnings of a beard across his face.

The man bounded up the steps, holding the baseball bat out defensively in front of him with both hands. “This house is the private property of Ms. Margaret McKinnon. You’re trespassing!”

I took in a couple of breaths and put on a shaky smile before I spoke, hoping to calm the big guy down. “Listen, I know what this looks like, a stranger trying to get into a house at this time of night. But I’m Maggie’s—Ms. McKinnon’s—nephew. I’m moving in.”

The man moved his head imperceptibly and squinted at me as he processed my explanation. His body was still tensed and his mouth tight.

I nodded toward the floor. “I’ve got keys, see?” I would have bent down and picked them up, but as the man was still holding the bat, I decided as little movement as possible on my part was the best policy.

“Show me proof,” the man growled.

“Proof?”

“That you’re Margaret’s nephew.”

Lowering my hands carefully, I bent down to open my duffel bag. The man followed my every move, his steely dark eyes trained on his target.

I pulled out the folder of papers from the lawyer and handed them over to the man. “I’m Jack, by the way.”

No response, but the man lowered the bat to take the folder and open it. As he read, his whole face sagged and his eyebrows shot up. “This says Last Will and Testament… is Miss Margaret….” His voice grew hoarse and trailed off.

I nodded gently. “Three weeks ago.”

“Damn,” the man said quietly. He went back to scanning the papers and soon was scowling again. “These papers refer to a Jonathon Frost. You said your name was Jack.”

He made a motion to reach for the bat again, so I spoke up quickly.

“Jonathon’s my name, but everyone calls me Jack. Aunt Maggie gave me that nickname when I was born, and it just kind of stuck.”

“Frost?”

“My mother and Aunt Maggie were sisters. Frost is my mother’s married name.”

Geez, how long was this inquisition going to go on? I appreciated the man watching out for my aunt’s house, but I was exhausted and it was cold out. Was I going to have to list every cousin twice removed to prove who I was? Maybe I should just hand over my driver’s license and social security card too.

The man grunted and handed the papers back to me. “My condolences. Miss Margaret was… a hell of a lady. Damn shame.”

I opened my mouth to say thank you, but the man was already down the steps and close to the street. No “Have a nice night” or “Sorry for nearly beating you with a baseball bat.” I shook my head, grabbed my duffel and keys, and went inside.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Blurb:

When Jack Frost’s aunt dies and leaves him her house in the tiny town of Great Falls, Jack seizes the opportunity to escape the rat race of Chicago for the quaint village he loved as a child. On his first night he’s welcomed by a baseball bat and a trespassing warning from Nick St. James—longtime Great Falls resident and infamous curmudgeon.

Jack wants to give Nick the benefit of the doubt—he can’t deny his attraction to the big man—but after several run-ins with Nick’s grumpiness and closed-off heart, he’s ready to give up. Only after discovering the secret Nick’s been covering up for years does he vow to break through Nick’s walls to find the loving man hiding behind them.

Christmas in July!

Okay so this post is a little late since today is the last day of July, LOL. Life has been busy the past few weeks. In exhausting ways and also in good ways.

One of the good things is my new book release! Falling for Santa Claus was released a week ago, on July 24 by Dreamspinner Press. The blurb and buy links are listed below.

FallingForSantaClausSM 72DPIYes, it is July and yes is a Christmas story. Dreamspinner chose to put release a handful of Christmas stories in July and I am so happy that mine was one of them!

I held a blog tour and a giveaway. Comments left on any of the posts are entries (be sure to leave a way for me to contact you!). I will leave the giveaway open until Aug. 3. The blog links are below.  Two winners will win special Christmas gifts from Santa! 🙂

In the posts I share a little about what inspired me to write the story and the characters and I share some Christmas memories. Three of the posts (Oh My Shelves, Love Bytes & Prism) contain a fun short story I wrote about what the characters are doing this summer (it takes place after the book).

Blog Links:

July 17 – MM Good Book Reviews

July 21 –  Oh My Shelves

July 24 – Divine Magazine

July 24 – Love Bytes

July 25 – Bayou Book Junkie

July 28 – Dreamspinner Press Blog

July 29 – Prism Book Alliance

Blurb:
When Jack Frost’s aunt dies and leaves him her house in the tiny town of Great Falls, Jack seizes the opportunity to escape the rat race of Chicago for the quaint village he loved as a child. On his first night he’s welcomed by a baseball bat and a trespassing warning from Nick St. James—longtime Great Falls resident and infamous curmudgeon.

Jack wants to give Nick the benefit of the doubt—he can’t deny his attraction to the big man—but after several run-ins with Nick’s grumpiness and closed-off heart, he’s ready to give up. Only after discovering the secret Nick’s been covering up for years does he vow to break through Nick’s walls to find the loving man hiding behind them.

Buy links: Dreamspinner Press   Amazon   ARE   BN   Kobo

Getting the Magic Back

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything and I’ll get to that in a minute. First I have a big announcement to make! Last week I had a short novella accepted by Dreamspinner Press! It won’t be out until July 2016 so I don’t have many details yet, other than it will be released as part of a special promotion that month. I am super excited though!

One of the reasons I’m excited is because that story was the end of a year-long writing drought for me. After I wrote a story for the Goodreads Love’s Landscapes event last summer, I promised myself that my next goal was to write a full-length novel. I felt ready to try something larger and the only way I knew I’d be able to do it was to not let myself get distracted by another short story picture prompt or submission call.

Then my EDJ got busy. My freelance side business got busy. And since both of those jobs pay the bills they had to take priority. The busy pace carried over into 2015 and next a personal issue got added into the mix. I swear the first half of this year just felt like I had a dark cloud hanging over me all the time. Not that life was bad, just kind of a “meh” feeling. Just filled with nothing but trying to put fires out and keep my head above water.

Finally at the start of this summer things started to ease up a bit and I told myself I had to get started writing again. Except…it just wasn’t happening. I knew how the last half of my novel would go, but I just didn’t quite know how to start it. (And no, I didn’t want to start in the middle and write out of order).

So…I decided I would write one more novella, for a submission call, just to see if I could get myself writing something—ANYTHING— again.

And it worked. The short story amazingly got accepted by Dreamspinner. Then I wrote another short ficlet for the Married in Vegas blog tour just because I loved the theme and had to write for it. And last week, the beginning of my novel came to me! I’m only a few paragraphs in, but it’s a start and I know it will flow from here. My goal now will be to keep myself on track and keep writing on it.

I’ve been listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s (the author of Eat, Pray, Love) podcast series called Magic Lessons this week and have been super inspired. In it she talks to 5 different women who all were feeling stuck in their creative lives and wanted a jumpstart. She gives advice and encouragement and also gets advice from other authors, artists,etc. who are actively working in the creative world every day. So much of it resonated with me, whether it was remembering why I started writing back in 2009, or why I needed to kickstart myself and keep writing now. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the reason I felt like I was slogging away for the first half of this year was because I wasn’t writing. We all need something in our life that is an escape or an oasis of joy from the day-to-day drudgery. A point of light that gets us through and gives us hope and something to look forward to. For many people that is their creative outlet. And right now, for me, that is writing. 🙂

What Happens in Vegas…

Vegas-Hop-Graphic

I joined a blog hop with 11 other authors to celebrate the passage of marriage equality and promote LGBTQ charities. The theme? Waking up married in Vegas. I LOVED the theme when I heard it and I couldn’t wait to write a story for it!!

Today my story was posted on Love Bytes review blog and I want to thank Dani and Love Bytes for hosting me as part of the hop.

Click here to read about Sean and Max and how one drunken night led to…Marrying the Best Man.

two_grooms

 

 

 

Happy Valentine’s Day and Gay Penguins!

Happy Valentine’s Day to everyone! I hope everyone is having a great day, whether you celebrate the day or not, I hope you are happy.

Inspired by the adorable penguins below, I wrote a short ficlet for Valentine’s Day, nothing too fancy or erotic (if you’re looking for Fifty Shades of anything, you won’t find it in this story.) It’s just a sweet high school meet-cute. 🙂 (And I wrote most of it while still sick so please don’t get too harsh on grammar, etc. I was just glad I was able to finally get it up *snicker, snicker* and on time.)

I am part of a special Valentine’s Week Blog Hop with a TON of other great authors. By visiting each blog through the rafflecopter at the end of this post, you will get entered to win a brand new Kindle and free books from every single one of us! I meant to get this post up earlier in the week but got waylaid with being sick for a while, but the contest runs until the 16th so if you hurry there are still a couple of days and plenty of chances to enter! Click the link at the bottom that says “A Rafflecopter giveaway.”

VDay Blog Hop

All of the authors are listed after the story, with links to their blogs.

~*~ ~*~

Gay Penguins

Dylan scowled at all the red and pink filling up the hallway. Cutout hearts, balloons, envelopes with cutesy cards, mini boxes of candy, flowers—anything that could be taped to a locker. The normal wall of sound of high school students, yelling and laughing and chattering and slamming lockers now also included high pitched squeals and shrieks and “OMIGAWDs.” He winced visibly as Jackie Paluzzo shattered his eardrum with an obnoxious squawk.

It was Valentine’s week. And at Parkview High School, there was a long-standing tradition of “Secret Valentine’s.” It really wasn’t so “secret,” because it was honestly just an excuse for those who were already dating to shower themselves with cutesy little gifts and notes. All. Week. Long. The boys in the school secretly hated Valentine’s week and groaned about it amongst themselves for weeks beforehand. But those with girlfriends begrudgingly went along with the tradition, to keep their girlfriends happy and putting out. Cause really what other reason was there to have a girlfriend?

Occasionally though, some brave souls, (usually girls) would take the week to heart and use it as an opportunity to reveal their secret crush on someone. There were a lot of new couples come February 15. And a lot of new break-ups by February 21st.

“Awww, whatsamatter pookie, why you look so sad?” Before Dylan had a chance to respond his cheeks were squished between a vise grip and his whole head shook back and forth. It was just how his sweet old Great-Aunt Mabel would greet him. If he had a Great-Aunt Mabel.

But no, Great-Aunt Mabel in this case, was really his petite, flannel shirt-wearing, purple-haired lesbian best friend Jules. Her face was all scrunched together as she looked up at him, lips pursed in a kissy-face. With a final jerk she let him go, and he rubbed his jaw tenderly.

“Ow, that hurt!”

Jules rolled her eyes. “Oh grow a pair already. Come on. Let’s go! I’ve been waiting forever. What took you so long, anyway?”

Dylan groaned. “It’s all this damned Valentine’s crap. Worse than the line for a Supernatural meet and greet at Comic-Con.”

Jules’ face twisted in a grimace. “Ugh. Yeah, sickening. On both accounts.” She banged her hand against his locker. “Quit wasting time then so we can get the hell outta this pukefest.”

Dylan quickly spun the combination on his lock and jerked open his locker door. As the metal creaked, something flat and square and red fell right into his hands.

He blinked as he and Jules stared at it like it was something from an alien planet.

After the shock wore off, Dylan sighed and looked accusingly at Jules. “Is this some kind of joke?”

She looked at him blankly before her eyes grew wide. She gestured to her chest. “Me? You think I did this? Sweetie you know I love you but I think we’ve already established that our species don’t intermingle that way.” Dylan was as gay as Jules was lesbian. However while she—in her words—”doesn’t give a shit what anyone thinks about me being a dyke,” Dylan was a bit more reserved in shouting to the whole world, “I’m here, I’m queer, Get over it.” In fact, only Jules and his parents and older sister knew he was gay. And since Jules was his only real friend, that meant no body at school knew. He was a pretty quiet, unassuming, typical scrawny teenage geek who did well in his classes and spent his free time reading comic books and watching Avengers movies. He wasn’t anyone special or important in the high school social web so he was more than content to just hang out in the background with Jules and bide his time till graduation.  He didn’t have any outward traits that screamed “gay,” so as far as he knew everyone at school—well anyone who might even give him a second thought, which weren’t many—assumed he was straight. Which meant that whoever left this envelope for Dylan…was probably female.

Dylan and Jules both looked silently back down at the envelope, then Jules looked up at him. She started sputtering and her face contorted and her eyes twinkled. Laughter burst forth and she clamped a hand over her mouth in a faux attempt to contain herself.

“Oh. My. God!” She leaned closer to him. “Dylan’s got a girlfriend!” she sing-songed.

Dylan smacked her with the card. “Shut. Up!” Jules doubled over cackling. Dylan threw his books into his locker, grabbed his history and English textbooks, backpack and slammed the metal door hard. Jules was finally slowing and catching her breath, but started to bubble over again when he looked at her. “You suck!” he said, as he strode past her.

Dylan made it all the way outside before Jules finally caught up with him.

“Hey! Hold up, asshole, short legged person here!”

Dylan slowed to a stop, and she appeared at his side. “All right, all right, geez. I’m sorry.” Her face sobered. “Actually, I’m sorry for the poor girl who’s gonna get her happy little heart broken when she finds out you will never be interested in her boobs.” Suddenly her eyes lit up. “Although I might be…maybe I can console her after you crush all her dreams, and I can convince her how icky you boys are—”

“You’re sick Jules!” Dylan whirled around and headed across the lawn.

“Oh come on, D!” Jules caught up to him again. “At least open it!”

Dylan glanced down. The offending red square was still in his hand and starting to get crumpled. He glanced around quickly then pulled Jules over to a nearby tree. Putting his backpack down on the grass, he took a deep breath and stared at the envelope.

“It’s not going to jump up and bite you, now come on, just open the damn thing so we can leave and I can mock you some more.” Jules smiled sweetly at him. Dylan narrowed his eyes at her but turned the envelope over and slipped his finger under the crease.

He pulled out a white card with a simple red heart on it. Inside, it said:

Great job on the English essay for Miss Carter’s class. It deserves to be entered in the contest.”

Neither Dylan nor Jules knew what to say. He flipped the card over, looked at the envelope again. Nothing. There was no name on the card, but obviously it must have been from someone in his English class. Miss Carter had given an assignment to write an essay about a high school student’s view of the world today . The New York Times was running a national essay contest and Miss Carter was going to enter the best essay in the contest. Today in class she had read Dylan’s essay and announced that his was the one she was going to submit.

“Hmmm,” Jules put her index finger on her chin in an exaggerated pose. “So someone in our English class…maybe Heather Nelson? Or oooh—” She jerked on his arm so hard he nearly tipped over. “Jackie Kozlowski!” Jackie Kozlowski was the homely, brainy girl of their class—stereotypical straight, nondescript hair, braces and heavy framed glasses.

Jules’ huge grin showed she was enjoying this entirely too much. Dylan wished she had never been around when he found the card. He pulled his arm out of her grasp and started walking.

“Oh come on!” She continued yelling after him but he kept moving forward.

 ~ * ~

When Jules finally caught up with him, she wisely shut up on the topic and started babbling about something else. He stayed silent as they found his car and drove uptown. They were going to hit Spin and the Book Nook. Spin was the local indie record store and Jules would spend hours in there if Dylan let her. Dylan, on the other hand could spend hours in the Book Nook. The Nook was a small independent bookstore run by great lady named Eva. She had shelves and shelves and shelves of new and used books, and she even had a small comic section. And every time Dylan stopped in, she had a new supply of “special” books that she got just for him.

The first time Dylan had been browsing through the store and came upon a label on a shelf that read “LGBT Literature,” he’d nearly died. He broke out into a sweat and looked all around—even though there was no one else in the store but Jules and she was way over in the Music section—before stepping closer and reading the titles. There were a lot of non-fiction titles like, “My Child is Gay. Now What?” or “How Do I Know I’m Gay?” or the infamous “It’s Get Better” book. There were some history books like the story of Stonewall and biographies of famous Gay people like Harvey Milk. But then…on the next two shelves were fiction books. About gay men—and lesbians, although Dylan had no interest in those books. All sorts of stories and tales in every kind of genre—from mystery to science-fiction to horror, hell there were even romance books—all written about other gay men and boys just like him.

It took him three weeks of walking by the section before he got up the nerve to finally take one of the books off the shelf and just look at it. And then he put it back so fast he barely got to read the title.

It was another three weeks before he stayed still long enough to hold the book in his hands and actually read the blurb on the back cover. Then he would put it back and look at another, his hands shaking the whole time.

“There you are Dylan. Did you finally find something you liked?” Dylan jumped and the book tumbled out of his hands. He grabbed for it and shoved it back on the shelf as quickly as possible, before turning to see Eva smiling at him.

“Umm…ahh…not really…ah…”

She cocked an eyebrow at him. “Really? In all the weeks you’ve been browsing this section, there’s nothing you want to read? Nothing?”

Dylan’s face heated up and he couldn’t speak or move.

Eva smiled wryly and walked over to the shelf. Concentrating on the titles, she pulled three different titles off the shelf, placed them in the plain brown paper bag she was carrying, then unzipped the top of his back pack and placed the books inside. She leaned closer. “Those are on the house. Bring them back when you’re done.”

And then she turned on her heel and walked away. She never said anything about the books in front of Jules, she never said anything when they left the store and she waved goodbye.

Dylan couldn’t believe it. And he still couldn’t believe it when he got home and opened his book bag after carefully closing and locking the door behind him. He quickly pulled out the bag to see what she had picked out for him.

He devoured all three long before his and Jules’ next weekly visit to the shop and he was all antsy and excited to return.

Once again, Eva never said a word, other than to ask if he liked the books, when he gave them back to her. He simply nodded, and she picked three more books off the shelf and put those in his backpack. And so was the beginning of their weekly ritual.

On this particular week, Jules had taken an entire hour browsing at Spin and Dylan had to finally drag her out of there so that they could still hit the Book Nook before they to get home.

As usual the store was quiet when they walked in, some nondescript background music playing softly. Eva greeted them with a hug and told them to look around; she was tagging some new books at the register. They were doing just that when the sound of books falling made them turn.

“Hey Jay-Z, what up?” Jules called out. “Jay-Z” was Jace, Eva’s son and he worked part time at the bookstore. He was also in their grade at school. He was one of the band geeks although he was definitely not what you thought of when you heard the words, “band geek.” He was really cute, had reddish-blonde hair kept a little long in the front, green eyes and a very warm smile. He had a calm, confident yet humble air about him. If it weren’t for the band thing he probably could have been a popular kid. But he never seemed to care one way or the other, just did his own thing. He liked being in the band. Dylan and Jules didn’t really have much chance at school to interact with him—he was in their English class and Jules’ history class—but they saw him all the time at the bookstore, usually as he was today, on a ladder, shelving books for his mom.

He turned smiled at them. “Hey guys.”

“Klutzy klutzy, Jay-Z, better watch out the boss is going to can you.” Jules pointed to the pile of books he’d just dropped.

Jace grinned, “Yeah she’s a slave-driver, she’ll probably send me to bed without supper.”

“I heard that!” came the call from Eva at the front of the store.

Dylan stepped forward and quickly picked up the books Jace had dropped and handed them to him, so that Jace wouldn’t have to come back down the ladder.

Jace smiled slowly, and paused, looking down at Dylan before holding out his hands for the books. “Thanks, Dylan.”

Dylan flushed but he wasn’t sure why. “No problem.”

~*~

The next day, Dylan trudged as slowly as he could to his locker at the end of the day, fearful of what he might find. Sure enough there was another square red envelope. This one held something hard inside though. When he flipped it over he saw a silver CD through the round window with some writing on it.

“OH Mi Gawd, like, she made you a mix CD! I bet it’s just full of gooey songs about how much she loves you and wants to be yours 4-eva!” Jules voice was so loud some of the kids standing near them looked over at the two of them.

Dylan elbowed her hard. “Shut. Up,” he hissed through his clenched teeth. Jules just rolled her eyes in glee. He started to shove the thing in his backpack and she stopped him. “Now, wait, don’t be in such a rush! Don’t forget to read the love note that’s attached!” Dylan glared at her but paused and pulled the CD closer.

There was a small orange Post-It note attached:

I liked your Blue Turtle shirt yesterday, they’re my favorite band too. Thought you might like this.

Now Dylan paused to check out the CD a little closer. It was a burned copy of one of Blue Turtle’s first CDs, one of their most popular but one Dylan didn’t have yet.

Jules peeked over his shoulder. “Oh hey, isn’t that the CD you were looking for the other day at Spin?”

“Yeah.” Dylan was still staring at the CD.

“Cool, at least you’re getting some good stuff outta all this hearts and flowers shiz.” She grinned. “Come on, let’s get outta here.”

~ * ~

The third day, Dylan found a small bag hanging from his locker at lunch time. Inside were a couple of Hershey bars, some trail mix and a pack of Oreos. The red envelope inside held a card with picture of Cookie Monster on it and inside, his secret admirer had simply written, “enjoy your lunch,” with a smiley face underneath.

On the fourth day, the gift was the latest installment of his favorite comic book, Star Robot. There was no note, just a paper heart slipped inside the front cover.

“Dude, okay so, seriously? I know you’re all bummed that some girl likes you but she’s pretty damn cool. I’m serious about taking her off your hands once you break her heart.” Jules clasped her hands in front of her and mouthed a constant stream of “Please, pretty please” at him.

“Stop it. She’s just trying to get me to like her, it doesn’t mean anything. Doesn’t mean she likes this stuff.”

“But she did say she liked Blue Turtle—”

“She could still be lying.”

Jules quieted for a moment. “I wonder how she just happened to know your favorite comic?”

It was a weird coincidence. If he didn’t know 100% for a fact that Jules was definitely a lesbian, he would have guessed it was her, since only she was the one who knew so much about him. And thankfully he didn’t have to worry it was her because, well…that would just be too weird.

~*~

When Friday dawned, Dylan was nervous and anxious and sick and dying for the day to just be over with already.  Jules chattered and taunted him all the way to school and he tried to just ignore her. Every time he stopped at his locker during the day he expected to find something, but there was nothing. He was relieved but knew it was all just a temporary reprieve. He knew there would be something waiting for him at the end of the day. When the final bell rang and the whole school erupted in noise and bodies, he contemplated making a run for one of the doors without even stopping at his locker. Yeah, that would work! Except not really…whatever his secret admirer had left for him would still be there Monday morning. Not to mention he would disappoint—and probably piss off—whatever girl had been sending him the cards and presents all week. He was still going to disappoint her, but probably it was best to just do it now, rather than put it off. Still his heart was pounding as he headed to his locker. He saw Jules was already there waiting for him. And he saw the little piece of red peeking out from his locker. It buzzed in his brain like a warning bell. “Danger! Danger!!”

“Hey lover boy!” Jules was standing in front of his locker when he finally reached it. She grasped his arms tightly and looked solemnly up at the red envelope, then back at him. “The time has arrived. Are you ready, Dylan Michael McKenzie? Are you ready for your life to change forever?”

Dylan didn’t react in anyway; he just shoved her aside and opened his locker. The simple little envelope fell into his hands, and he stared at it for a moment before he ripped the paper to shreds to get to the card inside.

“Whoa, be careful there, Cujo.” Jules warned.

On the front of the card were two cartoon penguins with rainbows chests, holding hands. Between them a red heart hung in the air. The inside was blank except for a note:

“Happy Valentine’s Day, Dylan. No more hiding. I am outside waiting by the big tree, if you want to meet me.”

Dylan started to sweat. He could do this, right? He’d just walk out there and tell whoever the girl was, thanks, but no thanks. That he wasn’t really into dating anyone right now. That would work. He set his jaw and started throwing books into his locker.

“Lemme see, lemme see!” Jules practically ripped the card out of his hand. She read the inside then looked at the outside again. “Dylan, did you look at this?”

Expecting all kinds of snarky comments about how cute it all was, Dylan was surprised to see how serious she was.

“It’s two penguins—”

“With rainbows on their stomachs.” When Dylan still looked clueless, she rolled her eyes and tried again. “Rainbows. And I’m pretty sure they’re both male penguins.” She raised her eyebrows for emphasis.

Dylan’s stomach turned, but he refused to acknowledge what she was saying. “Jules you are reading way too much into a cutesy little card.”

“No I don’t think I am!” She was all excited now. “Those silly card-makers only do hetero straight lovey dovey cards. One of these penguins would have a stupid bow on her head and silly eyelashes or something, to make sure we all know one of them is a girl.” She waved the card in his face. “But not these. No girly markings in sight. And they’ve got rainbows! Rainbows Dylan! I’m telling you, they’re gay penguins!” Jules’ voice was so high now she sounded like she could be one of those girly penguins she’d been describing.

Dylan grabbed the card and stuffed it into his backpack. “I think you’re taking the rainbows a little too literally, Jules. They’re just rainbows. Meant to look cute. Nothing more.”

“You don’t know that—”

She continued as they walked toward the front door. Dylan had a different fear now, a fear that this was all some big colossal joke to someone. That someone had found out he was gay and was going to out him.

When they walked outside, there were still tons of kids milling around. But only one person standing by the big tree at the edge of the yard.

Jules grabbed Dylan’s arm so hard he feared she would draw blood. “Oh. My. God!” she whispered. “It’s Jay-Z!”

Dylan’s mouth dropped open, because yes, sure enough it was Jace. He was sort of aimlessly pacing back and forth toeing the ground, checking his watch. Jace was definitely not a prankster or mean, at least he had certainly always been pleasant to them at the bookstore.

“Go!” Jules hissed in his ear. “Go get em’ tiger!” She let go of his arm and gave him a shove so hard he nearly lost his balance. That would be just great, to face plant right in front of Jace.

Somehow his legs moved him forward until he was standing in front of Jace.

Jace smiled sheepishly. “Um, hi, Dylan.”

“Hi…?” Dylan made his mouth move until this weird strangled version of the word came out, trailing off into what sounded like a question.

“Listen, I, um, I hope the card and gift thing all week was okay. Not too cheesy?”

Dylan just shook his head.

A relieved smile crossed Jace’s face. “Oh cool. I…well, I’d been wanting to ask you out for a while and well…I seem to chicken out every time you come in the store.” He grinned and his face turned a little pink.

Wait a minute…did he just say what Dylan thought he just said?

“You…you want to go out? With…me?”

“Yeah. I mean, if you want to. The new Avengers movie is still playing at the theater downtown,” he paused and when Dylan didn’t say anything, his face fell a little. “Or you know if you just want to go as friends that’s cool too. Or—”

“No!” The word burst out of Dylan’s mouth in a rush and he wanted to fall into a pit of embarrassment. “I mean, no, I’d love to go out. With you. I’m just…surprised that’s all.”

Jace smiled but still had a question on his face.

“I mean, I…” Dylan sighed. “I’ve been expecting it to be a girl all week, I…I didn’t even know there was anyone else like me in school.” The last part was whispered; although by this time most of the kids were gone and there was no one near enough to them to hear.

Jace cocked his head. “Like a girl would have been cool enough to get you the latest copy of the Star Robot?” His lips quirked.

“Yeah, well, Jules was hopeful. She was going to swoop in once I broke the poor girl’s heart.”

Jace threw his head back and burst out laughing. “She’s hysterical,” he finally said when he could breathe again.

“She’s…something, that’s for sure.”

They both stood there for a few moments, silent, looking at each other. Dylan still couldn’t believe a guy as cute as Jace wanted to go out with him.

“Okay then,” Jace finally said. “I’ll pick you up about six? We can grab some pizza at the Shack first?”

“Sure. Sounds great.”

Jace broke out into a smile that lit up his whole face. “Great, see you then!” He turned and left but Dylan was still rooted to the spot. Until he got smacked back to reality by a slap on the back of the head.

“Owww!”

“Shut. Up! Dylan’s got a boyfriend! Dylan’s got a boyfriend!”

“We’re not—” he started to say, but she was ignoring him, babbling on about love and romance or something. Dylan really wasn’t paying attention. His face muscles were twitching and he realized it was because of the big cheesy grin on his face. At the beginning of the week, when he’d received the first card he never would have dreamt in a million years that the week would end up like this. He had a real date. With a cute boy.

~*~

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Authors participating:

A.J. Marcus
Aidee Ladnier
Alexa Milne
Amanda Young
Annabeth Albert
Anne Barwell
April Kelley
Brandon Shire
Bronwyn Heeley
C. J. Anthony
Catherine Lievens
Cecil Wilde
Charlie Cochrane
Christopher Koehler
David Connor
DP Denman
Draven St. James
Elin Gregory
Elizabeth Noble
Ethan Stone
Eva Lefoy
H.B. Pattskyn
Hayley B James
J.M. Dabney
Jennifer Wright
Jessie G
Julie Lynn Hayes
Karen Stivali
Kazy Reed
Kendall McKenna
L M Somerton
Lily G Blunt
Lisabet Sarai
Lynley Wayne
M.A. Church
Megan Linden
Morticia knight
N.J. Nielsen
Neil Plakcy
Sibley Jackson
Stephen del Mar
Sue Brown
Tali Spencer
Tara Lain
Thianna Durston
TM Smith
Tracey Michael

Shiloh Saddler

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Holiday Flash Fiction Blog Hop!


I am participating in the Holiday Flash Fiction Blog Hop Thorny and Kris have put together. Yay!! Stories were to be inspired by the picture below and include the following items:

  * A winter holiday theme,
  * A “bad boy” character, and
  * A gift of some kind (author’s choice).
(It was also supposed to be under 3K but my boy was so angsty I went a little over. Sorry! )

at-the-shop

I loved the picture immediately. The first thing that struck me was the loving embrace by the two beautiful boys, but how the young man in front doesn’t look all that happy. He was obviously sad or wistful, or any number of emotions.

The combo of the photo and the “bad boy” requirement made me think of two boys I wrote in another story called “Pretty Boy and Frankie.” It is part of the Project Fierce anthology that was released earlier this year by Less Than Three Press. All proceeds from the anthology go to help support Project Fierce in Chicago, an organization trying to buy housing and start a center for homeless LGBT teens. If you haven’t read or purchased it yet, I encourage you to check it out, a wonderful way to help out our LGBT youth this holiday and get a ton of short stories from a lot of very talented authors.

Buy links: Less than Three Press, Amazon, ARe, BN    projectfierce400

You don’t need to have read the original to enjoy this new fic, it is completely standalone. This story is a future-shot into where the boys are two years after the first one ended.

 

I’m sure everyone has read everyone else’s wonderful stories, but if not, just click the present below to visit the blogs of all of the other authors participating.

ffhbh_badge4-200

* * * *

Home and the Heart
by C. J. Anthony

“Mommmmmy Pleeeease!” Frankie cringed at the loud screech that followed from the little girl upset at whatever she wasn’t getting. What the fuck, he thought, growling inwardly. It was Sunday afternoon and his only ambition had been to spend the next twenty-four hours home with his boyfriend in their apartment doing absolutely nothing. Well…maybe not exactly nothing, as he and Connor could always find something to do to keep themselves occupied.

Instead he was being assaulted from all directions with blinding lights, hordes of people brushing past him and the tinny caterwauling of yet another rendition of Jingle Bells blaring from overhead speakers. Connor had Christmas shopping to finish and had begged and pleaded until Frankie agreed to join him. Actually he had been bribed with the promise of a mind-numbing blowjob after they got home.

But going to the mall five days before Christmas—along with every other man woman and child in the entire city of Columbus—might not even be worth a blow job, now. The worst part was, he was blindly following Connor like a puppy dog, empty-handed while Connor carried two full, bright red store bags. Because Connor had friends and family to buy presents for. Connor’s relationship with his parents was still tense and awkward, but he and they still exchanged gifts like the perfect Stepford family. And Connor had numerous friends he’d met in his classes and various college activities.

Frankie had…the guys he worked with at the garage. And while they all grudgingly got along, they weren’t exactly the type of guys you gave a new pair of socks wrapped up in pretty paper and bows.

The nearness of Connor was the only thing keeping him sane in this holiday tsunami of people and holiday cheer. His whole body warmed as Connor wrapped an arm around him and nuzzled his face close to Frankie’s ear.

“Baby, you’re doing so good,” Connor whispered in his ear.

Frankie grunted. “Are you done yet?”

“Almost. I still have to get you something. Come over here and look—”

“Connor—”

“Frankie, come on, let’s just look okay?” Trapped by Connor’s arm around him, Frankie had no choice but to turn in tandem with Connor to face the front of the jewelry case.

“They have some nice stuff. This ID bracelet is gorgeous. A nice brushed platinum. Or look, they even have some nice braided leather cuffs­—”

Frankie sighed. Connor was involved in a campus gay alliance that had done a lot of work fighting for Marriage Equality. It still wasn’t legal in Ohio but it was only a matter of time. Ever since he’d started working with this group he’d been pushing Frankie for this commitment symbol bullshit. That he and Frankie should wear some reminder of each other that they both could keep with them at all times. Not a ring—thank God—but something that represented their relationship. Something that showed they belonged to each other.

He and Connor had been living together for two years and they’d met a year before that. Connor volunteered at the Sunshine Center, a homeless shelter in Chicago that Frankie often frequented. When he wasn’t spending nights in a park or an abandoned building, that is. At first Frankie just thought Connor was a spoiled little rich kid forced to slum it with the gay homeless kids. He tagged him Pretty Boy, meant as an insult, although in reality Frankie thought he really was beautiful. Then he found out Connor was gay. And then they spent time working together at the Sunshine Center. And then there was the night Connor came looking for him at the abandoned building he was staying at…and one thing led to another, as they say.

Except Frankie screwed it all up by skipping town the next day. Frankie’s uncle had got him a job working in one of his car-repair shops…in Detroit for a while, then Columbus, Ohio. It was a chance for a real job and a way off the streets…and his uncle didn’t really give him a choice. The mistake had been leaving Connor and not telling him he was leaving. He’d felt like a heel for doing that to Connor. And as much as he hated to admit it to himself at the time, leaving Connor had hurt like hell. Frankie had let his guard down and let himself fall for the guy even though he knew it could never work out. He was Cinderella living in squalor and Connor was the rich prince—but real life was hard and dirty and definitely no fucking fairytale. So he left. End of story.

Except it wasn’t. They must have had some kind of Fairy Godfather working behind the scenes, because a year later Connor came walking into the garage he was working in. Turned out Connor was attending Ohio State for college. They had been living in the same city for nine months and didn’t even know it. Frankie freaked. He initially tried to push Connor away for about five minutes. Connor was used to getting what he wanted, though, and he wanted Frankie. And damn if he understood it, but Frankie wanted Connor too.

They’d been together ever since. Every night they slept in the same bed. To Frankie that was commitment. What more did Connor need?

Frankie forcibly entangled himself from Connor and pushed away from him. He glowered at Connor. “Did you get all the stuff you wanted?” The hopefulness lighting up Connor’s face disappeared and Frankie’s heart broke. But right now in the middle of a jillion people was not the time or place to discuss this topic again.

“Yes,” Connor replied quietly.

“Then let’s get the hell out of here.”

They both were silent as they made their way through the maze of people and the endless rows of cars in the parking lot. Once they were in their vehicle, shut away from all the noise, Frankie paused before starting the car.

“What are you waiting on? You were in such a hurry to get out of there, let’s go.” Connor pressed, an edge to his voice.

Frankie banged his fists against the steering wheel. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Connor flinch.

“What the fuck is with you and this stupid idea of making me wear some fancy bracelet or necklace or whatever the fuck? I told you I don’t want nothin’ and I can’t wear that kind of shit anyway when I’m working on cars. So I’d just have to take it off anyway and then I’d probably just lose it or something stupid and then you’ll get all mad.”

When Connor didn’t answer Frankie turned to him. “Why the fuck is it so important? You know that kind of shit isn’t me.”

Connor let out a breath and closed his eyes briefly before looking straight at Frankie. “I just…” he paused and reached inside the neck of his shirt. “I still have your St. Michael’s medal. I wear it every day. It’s a piece of you I carry with me all the time. I just…I wanted you to have something similar, to make you think of me, to not forget me.”

Frankie’s eyebrows furrowed. “I see you every day, how could I forget you?”

Connor turned his head away and looked out the window. “Just forget it. I won’t bring it up again.”

“No, I’m trying to figure out why this is so important to you. I gave you my St. Michael’s medal to protect you, like my mama gave it to me.” Frankie’s Catholic upbringing was still with him even though he hadn’t been to church since his Catholic parents kicked him out of their house for being an abomination.

“Right. And it’s important to me because you gave it to me. I’ll always have it to represent you and me…no matter what happens.”

Frankie’s head whipped up. No matter what happens? What the hell did that mean? Shit. He got hot and his heart started hammering against his chest. Frankie had been expecting this moment for two years…and now it was here. He knew Connor wouldn’t be his forever. It was just a matter of time. Connor was almost done with school; he’d be graduating in the spring. He could go wherever he wanted then—find a job somewhere and make a new life with someone who had more education than a GED. Someone who didn’t come home every night dirty with grease under their fingernails. Fuck. Connor had been working a lot of late nights, maybe he was gone already. Maybe this gift thing was his guilty conscience trying to compensate.

“No matter what happens? What the fuck does that mean?” Frankie didn’t mean to sound so hard but he couldn’t help it.

Connor bent his head down and refused to look at Frankie. “If…” Connor paused and Frankie couldn’t breathe while he waited for Connor to finish.

“…you left again. If you had something to remind you of me, maybe you wouldn’t leave.”

Frankie blinked and tried to keep down the anger that boiled up in him. But when he opened his mouth the words just flew forth before he thought.

“Goddammit Connor. I thought we were over this. It’s been Two. Fucking. Years. Two years of coming home to you every night and waking up every morning next to you. Isn’t that enough? No, you think some pretty little bauble, some chain around my neck is what’s going to make me stay? I know I fucked up the first time but haven’t I proven myself? Shit. Shit Connor!” Frankie pounded the steering wheel again. “Why the fuck do you think I’m the one who’s going to leave? You’re the one who’s getting all smart and going to school and then you’re going to graduate and take off and rip my fucking world apart.”

You could hear a pin drop in the car. Connor and Frankie stared at each other, the cold air in the car seeping through their heavy coats into their bones. Frankie wanted to kick himself for what he’d just said. He couldn’t believe he’d just revealed himself that way. Frankie was tough from living on the streets, he knew the score, and he knew how to keep the wall up. But Connor just shattered it every damn time. And Frankie felt like he had just carved open his chest and let his heart bleed out everywhere.

Connor still stared at him with his mouth open. But the real truth came in his silence and Frankie’s heart sank. Connor wasn’t denying anything Frankie had just accused him of. Frankie faced forward, and started the car, blinking away the wetness in his eyes.

* * * *

When they got home, Connor made a grab for his arm as they got out of the car, and Frankie knew he wanted to say something but it was too late. Frankie stomped up the stairs to their second-floor apartment, slamming the door behind him. Connor came in a few minutes later, more quietly. And again Frankie could tell he was building up to say something until his phone beeped. It was one of his study groups, they were meeting and Connor was late. So without a word he grabbed his backpack and rushed out the door.

Frankie grabbed a beer from the fridge, slammed himself down on the couch and fired up the most violent video game he owned, the one Connor refused to play with him. He gripped the controller in his fists and jabbed at buttons, killing and smashing every object and person in his path.

* * * *

When he opened his eyes next it was pitch black. He blinked, and saw the TV was off. Rubbing his hand over his face, he winced as he moved, a painful kink in his neck from the position he was in. He’d apparently fallen asleep. The blanket from the back of the couch was partially covering him, which also explained the TV being off. Connor must have come home. As he sat up more fully his body urgently reminded him of the beers he’d had earlier.  Standing, he shuffled as quietly as he could through the darkened apartment toward the bathroom. He had to walk a few steps through the bedroom to reach the bathroom and when he got there he stopped in his tracks, his body’s needs forgotten. Enough light shown from the window for Frankie to see Connor, asleep and curled up on his side in their bed. Normally he would have been curled into or around Frankie’s body.

Frankie’s heart twisted and he leaned against the doorframe for support, sliding down until he was sitting on the floor. Connor was a heavy sleeper so Frankie knew he wouldn’t wake him. He took advantage of the time to watch Connor, in the quiet stillness. Connor’s blond hair was mussed across his forehead and he looked as sweet and innocent as the day he had walked into the Sunshine Center. He was beautiful and perfect and it was going to kill Frankie when Connor left.

Frankie’s anger from earlier was gone, replaced now with only sadness and resignation. Connor was all he had and when he left, Frankie would be alone in the world again. He’d survived when his parents abandoned him, and while hurtful, that had been somewhat expected. The Catholic Church was starting to bend a little more in their beliefs, his staunch Catholic parents were not. He knew they would not accept him when they found out he was gay.

And now, with Connor—even though he’d known the day would come—every day Connor walked in the door lulled Frankie into the belief that maybe, just maybe Connor would stay with him. Until tonight.

The only thing that didn’t make sense was this need Connor had to get him something, to want Frankie to wear something to “think of him.” If he were leaving Frankie why would he care? And why would he be so sad when Frankie refused? It was a silly piece of chain and metal. Frankie was glad Connor still wore his St. Michael’s medallion. But Frankie didn’t need something like that to make him think of Connor. The feeling in his chest every time he thought of Connor did that for him.

Frankie sat for a while on the floor until the chill wrapped around him and then he finally got up. After finishing in the bathroom he carefully climbed into bed next to Connor and watched him sleep. It was a long while before he finally fell asleep himself.

* * * *

The next morning, Frankie woke up to cold sheets. Connor was already gone—he had early classes on Monday. Normally Frankie was the one up and gone before Connor but on Mondays he didn’t have to go in till noon. When he stumbled into the kitchen to make coffee he found a note from Connor on the fridge—I’ll be home late, deadline at the paper. 

Frankie pulled the note down and crumpled it in his fist. His anger spiked but mostly he just felt numb. Yet another late night, imagine that. Connor had been accepted for an internship for a local city arts paper and all semester it had been the same thing—late nights, deadlines. Add in Connor’s classes, his study groups and extracurricular groups and there had been a lot of notes left on the fridge lately. Or voicemails. “Sorry babe, can’t make it…gonna be late…eat without me…” Frankie knew the internship was important for Connor; he’d been so excited when he got it, and Frankie tried to be supportive and understand all the time it took. In fact one of those late nights Frankie had decided to stop by with a pizza for Connor…only to find the place closed up. When Connor got home (later than Frankie) he said they had unexpectedly finished the issue up early and everyone had gone out for a celebratory drink. Frankie had been suspicious but let it go, wanting to stay in his happy little bubble for a while longer. Fuck, was he an idiot.

* * * *

Frankie made it through work on autopilot. But he couldn’t stop thinking of Connor and their argument yesterday. And how he’d left this morning without saying a word. Frankie checked his phone a few times during the day but there were no texts or voicemails from Connor, and normally there were several texts or calls from him in a day. Come to think of it, Frankie realized, those had slowed down too, lately, he just hadn’t realized it. Fuck!

He cursed several times under his breath as he left the garage and headed home. He and Connor lived in a small, cheap apartment Frankie had rented when he first got to town, it’s only important feature being that it was within walking distance to work. When he and Connor got together, Connor was still living in the dorms and when the semester was over they moved him in without question. Frankie had wanted to look for another, nicer place but Connor swore the apartment was fine. It was just off High Street and close to both campus and Frankie’s job. And the price was right, since Connor was paying his own way through school. He actually saved money by not having to stay in the dorms.

Frankie slowed his pace, not really wanting to get home to an empty apartment, not wanting to face the evening alone. Although, he probably was going to have to get used to being alone again, he couldn’t face it tonight.

Muffled music and the blinking neon Miller sign in the window caught his attention. Lucky Spades, a total hole-in-the wall dive bar that he and a couple of the guys stopped in once in a while for a drink after work. He stopped, staring at the blinking sign, and before he knew it he was pulling open the old wooden door. A beer and an excuse to not go home was exactly what he needed right now. Why rush home when no one was there?

There were a few other lonely souls inside, a couple guys and a woman playing pool in the corner. Two other men at the bar, arguing about if Ohio State could win the next championship game. Frankie chose a stool away from anyone and downed his first beer before the bartender had a chance to go help someone else.

He was on number three and starting to feel pleasantly fuzzy, when he noticed another guy in a red scarf who’d came in sometime between beer number one and beer number two. He’d sat down at the other end of the bar but had been watching Frankie for a while. Frankie turned his head to get the bartender’s attention for beer number four and when he turned back around he found scarf guy smiling at him with a very wicked grin. He was bald, with a couple days’ scruff, nice full lips and a very fit body hiding under his leather jacket. Frankie glanced away and counted to ten before slowly turning his gaze back. Scarf guy’s eyes roamed down Frankie’s body. He wasn’t obvious at all when his eyes shifted pointedly toward the restroom sign and then back to Frankie, a heated question in his eyes. Frankie’s eyes lingered on him for a few moments longer than they should have. The guy was hot, and interested. Clear in his intentions. Back in Chicago Frankie would have already been halfway to the bathroom. It had not been unusual in his old life to trade a blowjob for some food or some other necessity. A few times he’d done it for money. But this guy was so hot, Frankie would have gone just for the hot sex and his dick would happily be leading the way.

As he stared at the guy he gripped the cold beer bottle, running his fingers up and down it’s wet surface, and found his beer-soaked brain actually contemplating the man’s offer. Why the fuck not? Connor was not home, and he was here alone… Connor. His chest constricted as the vision of Connor’s beautiful face swam into his head. Fuck. In an instant he was furious and sickened that he’d even briefly entertained the thought of a cheap, quick bathroom fuck with some random stranger. He knew that his relationship with Connor may already be on its way out, but he wasn’t going to be the one to kick it out the door.

He drained the last of his beer, threw some money on the bar, and stumbled out of the bar on shaky legs. Outside he leaned against the side of the building, letting it hold him up while he gulped in lungfuls of bitter cold air. The guy hadn’t even made him hard; Frankie had no physical interest in him at all. He couldn’t believe he’d almost…fuck, he had to get a grip. Whatever Connor was going to do, he was going to do. And Frankie was just going to have to deal with it, right? He wasn’t going to beg or grovel. He didn’t want someone who didn’t want to be with him.

The cold air sobered him up just enough to get him moving again toward home. His brain was still woozy and sorting through a million different thoughts. He passed a pawnshop and saw rings and necklaces in the window, which just circled his brain back to the jewelry fight with Connor. They’d gone round and round on this for a few weeks. He frowned. Surely Connor wouldn’t throw Frankie away for something so silly? Because he didn’t want to wear some trinket to prove he loved Connor or that he belonged to him?

It hit him then so hard that in his booze-buzzed state he physically staggered on the sidewalk. How had he missed that before? God he was an idiot. Is that what all of this was about? Did Connor want some proof from Frankie that he loved him? Frankie was not exactly a romantic type of guy. He didn’t do flowers and he didn’t voice his feelings much. Instead, he took care of Connor—he made sure Connor’s car was running good and had it’s oil changed. He wasn’t much of a cook but he tried to make mac and cheese or order pizza for dinner when Connor was busy studying. He gave him some money a couple of semesters when Connor was short on tuition. They’d had to eat ramen noodles for a week until Frankie got paid again but they’d survived. Hell, he even went to that freaking mall yesterday because Connor wanted to.

He had told Connor he loved him a few times—the first time being one of the most terrifying things he’d ever done. Connor, of course, said it all the time, but that’s just who he was. He knew how Frankie felt about him, right? But Connor’s words from yesterday filled Frankie’s brain—“If you left again. If you had something to remind you of me, maybe you wouldn’t leave.” Frankie had gotten pissed off without even considering why Connor still felt that way. Frankie was so sure he was going to lose Connor some day he never even considered Connor might feel the same way.

Jesus, this relationship stuff was hard. Why did it have to be so hard? Why couldn’t he just wrap Connor up in his arms and go to bed and everything be fine?

By now he was almost home. Voices made him look up and he saw a couple of giggly girls coming out of the tattoo shop, and he stopped before he almost ran them over. Looking in the shop window, Frankie had an idea. He needed to prove how much Connor meant to him—even if it was too late. Maybe he could convince Connor to stay. Taking a deep breath he turned on his heel and entered the tattoo shop before he changed his mind.

* * * *

As soon as he stepped inside the shop his whole body flushed and his pulse started pounding. Did he really want to do this?

“Hey man, what can I do for you?” He looked up at the guy behind the counter, swallowed hard and started describing what he wanted.

The man nodded, casually. “Yep, I can do something like that. Come on back.”

They discussed the details and colors as Frankie took his jacket and his shirt off and settled into the chair. He tried to calm his breathing and his heart rate but it was impossible. He was hot and shaking and gripped the handles of the chair to try and steady himself.

The man turned around, and paused as he glanced down at Frankie’s white knuckles and his white face. “Chill out, dude. You’ve obviously been through this before,” as he nodded at Frankie’s arm and neck. “Nice dragon by the way.”

Frankie nodded. “This one’s just… important.”

He settled on a stool and leaned closer to Frankie, grinning. “Yeah these kinds of tats always are. Don’t sweat it though. I’ve got lots of experience at covering them up when it all goes south.” He laughed out loud then and Frankie gripped the chair tighter.

He gritted his teeth as the needle hit skin. He knew it shouldn’t be so painful and wasn’t in reality, but he knew he would feel every bit of this one, because he just couldn’t relax. He felt stone cold sober to the tenth degree if there was such a thing, hyper aware of everything around him.

The guy stopped and sat back. “Okay man, you have got to loosen up. You want a Xanax or something? Or a smoke? Your chest is moving up and down so much I’m gonna fuck it up if you don’t seriously calm the fuck down.”

Frankie took a few deep breaths and tried to settle himself, closing his eyes. “No…just do it. Now!”

An hour later Frankie was on his way again, nervous energy, and happy endorphins coursing through him. The guy had done a great job, and Frankie was thrilled with it. He finally understood what Connor felt like wearing Frankie’s St. Michael medal. He couldn’t wait to show it to Connor, hoping he would be just as happy as Frankie.

* * * *

Connor was already home when Frankie walked in the door of their apartment. He jumped up from the couch with a worried look on his face. “Where have you been? I though you got off work hours ago.” As he stepped closer he raised an eyebrow. “Have you been drinking? Are you drunk?”

“I just stopped off for a couple beers. I’m cool. I thought you were going to be late.”

“I was, but I got off sooner than I expected. Did you eat yet?”

Connor headed into the living room and Frankie saw an open pizza box on their makeshift coffee table. There were plates and two glasses and a cheap bottle of champagne.

Frankie furrowed his brows. He wasn’t sure what was going on. The pizza made sense but the champagne…?

They both sat down on the couch and Connor turned toward him. He looked nervous.

“So I know I’ve been working all of those late hours at the newspaper and I know you haven’t been real thrilled with me being gone so much.”

Oh shit. Was this it? Was he—but wait, people didn’t buy champagne when they were dumping you did they?

“I had to though, you know. I needed to make a good impression.” He stopped and finally broke out into a grin. “And it worked! They offered me a job. One of the regular writers is leaving next month. I’m going to keep working with them part-time through the next semester and when I graduate they’ll bump me up to full-time. I might even get my own column!”

Frankie’s heartbeat sped up. “You got a job? After graduation? Here?”

Connor took his hand and his smile dimmed. “I’m sorry I didn’t say anything sooner, I’ve been hoping for it all semester but didn’t want to get my hopes up. Until yesterday and your speech in the car, I had no idea you thought I was going to leave. I had no idea you were even worried about something like that or I would have told you. Frankie, I have never had any plans of leaving here. Or you, God, especially not you! If I had to move somewhere else for a job, I never would have done it without talking with you first. Wherever I go, you’re coming too, or I don’t go.”

Frankie’s breathing hitched and he took a big gulp of air, causing the tape from the bandage on his chest to stretch and pull. He didn’t even feel the pain.

Connor picked up a piece of paper from the table and unfolded it. There was a picture of a house on it. “I’ve been looking at houses, thinking that now that I have a permanent job maybe we can move. I mean, I won’t be making a big salary, but with both of us working full-time we can afford a little more, right? It’s still a rental, I know we can’t afford to buy yet, but it’s in good shape and it’s bigger than this place and it has a yard…” He touched Frankie’s cheek tenderly. “You can finally have a real home again.”

Frankie was overwhelmed. He was happy and relieved and bursting with so much emotion. Connor was staying. Connor wanted a home. With him.

Connor pulled his hand away and tilted his head. “Is that okay? Can we move to a house? It’s not set in stone and we can look at others…”

“No, Pretty Boy, it’s okay…it’s fucking fantastic.”

Connor climbed on top of Frankie, straddling his hips. “Merry Christmas, baby.” Leaning in for a kiss, his chest pressed into Frankie’s, causing Frankie to hiss. Connor pulled back in concern. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Frankie protested, his face growing hot. Connor placed his hand on Frankie’s shirt, right on the spot above his bandage.

“Nothing? What is this under your shirt? Are you hurt?”

“I’m fine.”

Connor began reaching under the shirt hem, forcing the shirt up and over Frankie’s head. Frankie hurriedly placed his hand over the bandage, shielding it from Connor. “Did something happen to you—oh. Did you get another tattoo?”

Frankie looked down, not wanting to meet Connor’s eyes. What seemed like a fantastic idea an hour ago, Frankie wasn’t so sure about now. To prove his love for Frankie Connor had given Frankie a promise that he was here to stay and put down roots. To prove his love for Connor, Frankie…had gotten a tattoo. He felt embarrassed and silly now. Of course, it’s not like he could hide it forever; Connor would see it eventually.

Connor tried to push Frankie’s fingers aside. “Well let me see! I didn’t know you wanted another tattoo. What’s wrong with it? Come on…” Connor would just pester him until Frankie showed him, he was a persistent little shit.

Frankie, still not looking at Connor, pulled his hand away. His whole body tensed while Connor carefully pulled the bandage off.

There was silence…seconds, minutes, hours of fucking silence. Connor stared at it for a while before reaching out to graze the tips of his fingers against it, so lightly Frankie barely felt it. Anxious and nervous, Frankie finally looked at Connor.

Connor’s face was impassive but his eyes were shiny.

“What…what does it say?” Connor croaked out.

The tattoo, right above Frankie’s heart, was a simple but beautifully scripted series of words. Decorative, swirled lines linked the words into the subtle shape of a heart. Connor’s name was the largest, linked with the Italian phrases, “Caro Mio, il mio cuore.” Frankie swallowed nervously. “It says ‘My pretty one, my heart.’”

Frankie couldn’t stand the silence and wanted to run. He started to shift, trying to move Connor off of him. “It was silly…” he mumbled under his breath.

“No!” Connor loudly exclaimed. He restrained Frankie’s arms to keep him from moving and pinned Frankie’s legs down with his own. “It’s not silly, it’s…beautiful.” Connor’s eyes glittered as he stared at it.

“You wanted me to have something that reminded me of you.” Frankie said quietly. “You’re always with me now.”

“Yeah, that’s…permanent.” Connor said quietly.

Frankie barked out a laugh. “Well the tattoo guy said he was pretty good at covering things up if I ever needed it…”

Connor frowned in anger. “Never. You are never covering that up!”

“I hope not,” Frankie whispered huskily.

Connor took Frankie’s face in his hands and kissed him, thoroughly and deeply, bruising Frankie’s lips with all of his emotion. When they finally pulled apart they were both breathless.

“So you like it?” Frankie asked.

Connor met Frankie’s eyes. “I love it. I…never thought… Oh Frankie, it means more than you know. I love you so much.”

Frankie’s heart filled and for the first time in twenty-four hours he could really, truly breathe again. “I love you too, Pretty Boy.”

* * * *