2/05/2015

Back on the Virtual Shelves: The Librarian Returns! #mmromance #rerelease #erotic

Hey all! Just a note that one of my very first books, The Librarian, is once more available.  It's been revised, re-edited, and re-covered with fabulous artwork by the talented Laura Harner.

Currently Available at
or 
(Via PayPal. Mobi, Lit, Epub, and pdf formats)

Amazon & Barnes & Noble Links Pending 


A rash vow of celibacy puts Valentine Michaels in the path of seduction.

Val is at a crossroads in his life. A college dropout, he's gone as far as he can in his career as a cosmetologist, owning his own style salon. He no longer finds satisfaction in it, though he's put years into proving to his bigoted parents that a college degree and the veneer of straightness aren't the only roads to success. They'd turned their backs on him, and he proved he didn't need them to make it.

His love life is no better than his working life. His relationships always start with a bang and fizzle into boredom, or worse, anger.


Adrian has his own agenda for helping Val: he's been in love with Val since they were freshmen. The intervening years of listening to Val's gossip about his lovers and relationships have taught Adrian just what it was he did wrong all those years ago, and he thinks this time around he now knows exactly how to get—and keep—his man.

EXCERPT 

Prologue

Adrian sat on his bed, statistics book open in his lap, studying for the test he had in the morning. The subject matter fascinated him, but his attention kept drifting to the clock on the desk across the room. The closer midnight came, the more frequently his gaze returned to the red numbers. Where had Val gone? He'd said, but Adrian had barely listened, absorbed in his book. What if something had happened to him?

His hand drifted toward the cell phone on his night table, and he picked it up. He stared down at the little device, the latest technology available. His parents had bought it and brought it up to him with his clean laundry last Sunday. They'd been so proud of it, Dad explaining all the neat features of the phone, Mom insisting on snapping a few pictures of him with it.

Adrian had stayed in their dorm room since he'd left the library at five. Val hadn't called. He flipped the phone open and checked anyway. Fully charged, as always. No messages, no calls. Except the three from his mother earlier, making sure he'd hung up the shirts she'd ironed for him, reminding him to keep the phone charged, and to eat vegetables with his dinner. He saved the messages. She would like that.

He tried to turn his attention back to his book and the test that loomed, but thoughts of what Val might be doing, and who he might be doing it with, kept intruding. They hadn't made any commitments, but he and Val had shared a bed for the past week, and he'd known he loved Val since October, when he'd kissed his blue-haired roommate for the first time. A spontaneous, awkward, drunk kiss during a dorm Halloween party, neither he nor Val had mentioned it when they sobered up the next day, though Adrian treasured the memory as the most wonderful kiss he'd ever experienced.
That had been a month ago, and in the last few weeks Val had broken up with his boyfriend, and Adrian secretly thrilled to hold his friend and offer support. One thing had led to another, one fumbling kiss to a caress, the caress to sex. From that night on, they had slept here together, exploring and learning each other's bodies, wants, and desires.

But this morning, Val had mumbled something about not waiting up for him. Adrian, too busy rushing to get ready for class and his upcoming exam, paid Val little attention. Now he wished he had. It might have saved him this anxious, sharp pain in his stomach, the heaviness of his heart. Events were scheduled all over campus. He had no chance of finding Val at any of them. Pep rallies, concerts, lectures, study groups. He wouldn't even recognize any of Val's punky friends if he ran into them.

The thump of feet in the hallway stopping outside their door drew his attention. His gaze fastened on the door and he heard the click of Val's key in the lock as the knob turned. The sight of his roommate's flushed cheeks, plump, red, kiss-swollen lips, and crazily mussed blue hair sent his heart plummeting and his stomach churning. He swallowed to keep from throwing up, and forced himself to speak.

"Where have you been?" Adrian cringed at the whiny need in his voice.

Val's head turned in slow, languid fashion and Adrian flinched. Fuck. He tried the word out inside his head, ignoring the heat along his cheekbones. His mother would freak if he ever said it out loud. It fit though. He knew that look. Val had just that look when he came. When Adrian sucked his cock, or stroked him to orgasm, he looked exactly like that: sated, flushed, and happy. But Adrian hadn't put that look there tonight.

Val's eyes lit up when he saw Adrian watching him, and he stumbled forward to collapse in a heap across the neatly folded quilt Adrian's grandma had hand-stitched for him as a graduation gift. "I'm in love." He moaned, twisting onto his side gingerly to face Adrian.

Adrian struggled to keep his face interested and not show his devastation. He was in love too. "You went on a date?"

Val nodded, his eyes drifting closed dreamily. "He's so awesome, Adrian. He's on the football team. Blond hair, blue eyes, the broadest shoulders…" Voice trailing softly away, Val's own blue-eyed gaze snapped up and locked on Adrian's. "And man, he's got skills. I've never felt like that before."

Adrian nodded, keeping an encouraging look on his face, and he closed the statistics book in his lap. No studying would happen now. He listened, his heart breaking slowly, as Val described his new boyfriend in elaborate detail.

Chapter One

Impatiently, Val flipped his powder-blue locks over his shoulder, tapping the little whisk broom against the counter where his supplies were arranged neatly. "Derek, you left me standing around at Paul's for an hour, a place I totally hate by the way, without even a phone call to say you weren't coming, and then I walk past you playing ball in the park with your friends on the way back here. I'm not overreacting!"

He ran a swift eye over his supplies. Scissors, combs, spray bottle with water, gel, mousse. Everything in order. While he prepared his workstation, he listened with half an ear to the deep voice on the other end of the phone, trying to explain or rationalize or whatever, but he wasn't into hearing what Derek had to say. The guy was an immature jerk who put his own wants ahead of everything, even if it meant leaving Val standing in a group of young college kids he barely knew, in a bar he usually avoided like the plague. He'd gone to the party in the first place for Derek. Being stood up while doing something so selfless pissed him off. Just once in a relationship, Val wanted to find a guy who put him first, who loved him more than sports, friends, and all the other temptations the wicked world offered. "Just forget it, Derek. You don't get it. It's not just last night; it's the whole last few months."

More rumbling and babbling in his ear. He ran a dust cloth over the client's chair and then adjusted its height. Prepping his station at the salon was second nature and required little of his attention. Kind of like listening to Derek. Why the fuck do I listen to this shit? Derek had all the emotional understanding of a two-ton truck. Cute as hell, but clueless about what would melt Val's heart. In fact, Derek might accurately be called dense altogether. A little consideration, a romantic gesture or two, would go a long way. Hell, an apology instead of an excuse would probably have gotten him a second chance even this morning. Eh. Who are you kidding? Derek is a symptom, not the illness itself. "Fuck off, Derek. It's over. Do me a favor and lose my number, okay?"

Flipping the phone shut, he shoved it into the pocket of his smock and busied himself cleaning up his workspace. A quick spray of glass cleaner to the mirror, a swipe or two with a rag, and he was done. Done with Derek, done with men, done with romance and love and sex, and fuck it all. He could be celibate. Masturbation didn't count as sex, did it? He'd need something if he wasn't getting any.
"Hey, Smurfette, your professor is here."

It happened. Just like that. Ted's sarcastic statement, delivered in his superior nasal twang, made Val's vow of celibacy probably the shortest in history. He put down the small whisk broom he'd been using to clean up his already spotless workstation and dusted his hands off on his powder-blue smock. The smock he had chosen deliberately to match his hair this morning because it highlighted his eyes and skin tone, even though he knew wearing it would invite the gangly receptionist to make Smurf comparisons. He'd only just made the solemn promise to himself to take a break from men and get his head screwed on straight before venturing back into the dating arena. He'd been celibate for all of five minutes maybe, if you didn't count the previous six days when he could have had sex with Derek if he wanted to, but he hadn't because he didn't. Want to, that was.

He'd almost forgotten about his regular ten fifteen appointment with Adrian Grey. Val shook his head. He knew better than that. That would be a lie and Valentine Michaels knew better than to lie. He did it so very badly. He could never completely forget about Adrian. They'd been friends for nearly ten years, since they were roommates in the dorm freshman year at NCU. Heck, for a few brief days, they'd been something more than friends, even. Though he didn't usually primp like this for his exes.

Adrian Grey, though hot as hell, exemplified everything Val was not looking for in a man. Where Val liked big, muscular men who towered over him, Adrian was only an inch or so taller than he was. Val preferred blonds, but Adrian wore his straight black hair cut long enough to curl under his jawline in front and curved higher in back to meet the university library's requirement that all male employees wear their hair above the collar. The wire-rim glasses he wore on a fine rope around his neck gave him a distracted air of intelligence and emphasized the almost delicate aspect of his refined features. His jawline was smooth and silky, whereas Val preferred the sexy appeal of rough, two-day stubble.
Everything about Adrian said successful, young professional. Adrian was solid, dependable, and reliable. All those -able words that no one had ever applied to Val. There was intelligence in those blue eyes, and humor in the tilt of that rosy mouth, and sexy didn't begin to describe his lean, firmly muscled body.

"He's a librarian, you ass," he snapped at Ted. "And he's not my type." Type or not, Val found himself checking out his hair in the mirror, adjusting the powdery blue strands as he bit then licked his lips. Ah, well, he was a beautician, wasn't he? He had to look good, even for the clients who didn't want something creative in their personal look. Surreptitiously he breathed on his hand, checking his breath, and swiped his lips with a tube of clear gloss he pulled from the pocket of his smock. And, he reasoned triumphantly, he could appreciate beauty where he saw it for the exact same reason! And Adrian was beautiful in his geeky way.

He looked up and met Adrian's eyes in the mirror as the other man strode to the reception desk to receive his share of the crap that Ted dished out without prejudice. Mmm. That blue oxford really brings out the sparkle in Adrian's eyes, doesn't it?

"Come on back. I'm all ready for you." You have no idea how ready, he snickered inside as he spun the chair and waved Adrian to sit.

He always chatted away while trimming Adrian. It wasn't like he needed to concentrate in order to trim Adrian's hair into the same style he'd been wearing for the past six years. He rolled his eyes. Another thing about Adrian that was so not his type: Adrian resisted change. He even used the same fucking cell phone he'd had in college. Val used to try to convince Adrian to try a new cut once in a while, but Adrian liked what he liked and refused all offers to dye, cut, or curl his hair into something other than the style he already wore. The chat distracted him from the heat of Adrian's body and the enticing scent of his cologne. It prevented his imagination from running away with him. In the past, the conversation had served as a reminder that Adrian was off-limits.

Gesturing slightly with his scissors and comb, he asked, already knowing what the answer would be, "So, are you going to let me cut this in a different style for you today?"

As expected, Adrian simply shook his head and seated himself in the waiting chair.

"So," Adrian said, when Val found himself tongue-tied for the first time in their long history of Friday morning haircuts, "what's new in your life? Or should I say, who's new in your life? Ted just told me you broke up with Derek."

Val flushed. Was that really the impression he'd given of himself? He came off as the kind of guy who couldn't last a week without a lover?

A bit hurt, he snapped, "What? Like I always have to have a boyfriend? There's no one right now. After that dumb-shit Derek, I'm taking a break from men for a while."

Adrian jerked in the chair, and Val cursed. "Be still. You could end up with a new hairstyle whether you want one or not, jumping like that!"

"Sorry. Just what exactly do you mean by taking a break from men?" The other man seemed bewildered for some reason.

"I mean," he declared dramatically, tossing his head, "I've taken a vow of celibacy. I'm swearing off men, drama, and love."

Adrian laughed softly. "Oh. That'll last. The next pretty boy with bulging muscles who strolls through that door for a haircut, or offers to buy you a drink at the bar, and you'll be back in the game, heartbreak forgotten."

Val gasped. "Oh, that was uncalled for! I'm not exactly heartbroken, just reevaluating where I stand on some issues. I'm tired of leading such a messy life. I need to figure myself out before I get involved with anyone else."

"I'm sorry," Adrian apologized. "I shouldn't tease you. It's just that I've known you since we were freshmen at the university, and ever since then, for ten years, you've always had a boyfriend—usually some muscle-bound, superhero jock-type."

Sighing, Val stilled his hands and met Adrian's eyes in the mirror. There was sympathy in the blue depths, but more, there lurked something indecipherable that he hadn't seen before. "It's not just Derek, Adrian," he confessed in a low voice. "It's all of it. Everything. The shop bores me. The bars and clubs are filled with younger and younger people every time I go, and I'm like a babysitter, or God forbid, my mother. Have you heard that crap they call music now?" He shook his head and went back to trimming fractions of hair from silky black locks and brushing strays from the blue oxford collar. Finished, he put aside the tools of his trade.

Adrian rose from his chair and scribbled something on a card he pulled from his shirt pocket. "Here's my cell number. Call me anytime if you need someone to listen or want to get together."

Val stared as the other man turned and left the salon brushing stray hairs from his shirt as he did so. Down, boy. He glared at his cock where it arched up beneath the buttons of his 501s. He's not your type, remember? No amount of lecturing could convince his dick though. Maybe type was one of the things he'd need to reevaluate. He tossed the number in the trash, almost hoping Adrian would see him do it. Like he needed it. He'd had that phone number memorized for ten years. Not that he used it. Who needed a phone call when Adrian arrived every Friday, regular as clockwork? Slowly he wandered to the front of the shop, past Ted in his black, horn-rimmed glasses and bleach-splattered clothing, and on out the door, startling as he realized he was following Adrian.

2/04/2015

Story Orgy Presents: Like A Wolf Part 3 #storyorgy #mmromance




Good morning all! Sorry for my tardiness; I had a difficult deadline, but it's passed. Catching up on other things while I wait for edits.  Welcome back to part three of Like A Wolf, my version of Little Red Riding Hood. Are you hungry?
I know someone who is!  





Like A Wolf

A Little Red Riding Hood Story In Which the Wolf Must Choose Between Innocent Red, and the Seductively Skilled Hunter He’s Been Toying With For Years

Feb 2: It looked like snow.
           
“But I don’t understand, Robbie. You said he’s hot, and he was flirting with you in your restaurant. He’s obviously gay and has good taste. So many men don’t you know. That’s terribly important when you’re talking about forever. Why just think of your grandfather and that ridiculous boar’s head he refused to part with.” Grandmere poked him with one knobby finger. “I had to live with that hideous thing in my house for sixty-five years.”
The glass doors whooshed open in front of them and a blast of cool air rushed out. Robert hastily wrapped an arm around his frail grandmother. She felt the cold much more these days. “Are you sure you don’t want me to go back for your sweater?”
Shoving his arm away, Grandmere shook her head in a knowing fashion. “No. And don’t change the subject.”
“I wasn’t! You’re just…”
A dangerous glint lit her eyes. Her clacking heels stopped. She tipped her head back and glared at him in challenge. “I’m what?”
He bit his lips to stifle laughter and concern alike. “Wonderful. So… Lunch and a movie? You folks here like to live dangerously.”
She slipped a hand through the crook of his elbow and patted his arm gently. “Oh the Parkdale Senior Center is a hip and with-it organization dear. Or is it rad and tubular that you kids say these days?” She looked up at him in inquiry.
“Uh.” Robert choked. “Definitely not rad and tubular. Given it’s a senior center, let’s stick with hip, why don’t we?”
“Are you trying to be clever dear?” They followed glittery signs to a pair of double doors that were propped open. An easel just in front of the doors asked Hungry? in purple glitter.
Just the word made Robert’s stomach tense and a bead of sweat dewed his lip. Damn. Was he going to have to fight off arousal every time he heard or saw the word hungry? In the restaurant business? Really?
“Do you like it?” Grandmere asked, pointing at the sign with pride. “Ethel and I made it. I thought it turned out quite nicely.”
He realized he’d been staring at the sign… probably drooling, for all he knew… “It’s fabulous.” His voice was too loud… Embarrassment flushed his cheeks a deep read, People were turning and smiling. His gaze skittered across the room, fleeing sympathy and scorn.
A figure in a black apron stood at the buffet table, lean. tall… solid… sexy. Oh my god. Hungry. Not… “That’s Hank Wolf!”
“Yes dear. We old people like to eat dangerously, too.” His grandmother leaned up on her tip toes and whispered loudly in his ear. “Why… I heard that the movie is going to be PG- 13. That delicious Chris Hemsworth… in tights! It just gives me palpitations!” She fluttered her lashes at him dramatically and Robert was forced to laugh.
“I’m sure you’ll be fine.” Robert focused intently on her, but he could feel Hank Wolf watching them now. “I’m sorry. That’s not what I meant. Let’s find some seats and then I’ll bring you a plate, okay?” He made a show of searching the sea of elderly faces and figures for a few empty chairs, but the truth was there was plenty of available seating and he was just trying to avoid the fact that he’d just made an idiot of himself in front of Hank Wolf… twice.
He scurried as far from the buffet as he could, tried to find the most remote table so he could hide from both Hank and his embarrassment, but Grandmere resisted.
“I want to sit up here by the windows, Robert. It’s much warmer.”
Giving in as gracefully as he could managed, Robert pasted on a smile, greeted the two elderly men and a blue haired lady already seated at the table for six and pulled out a chair for his Grandmere.
“Did you know he was catering this?” He whispered out the corner of his mouth to her. as he pushed her chair forward.
“Of course I did, dear. I made the sign, I told you that.” She didn’t roll her eyes, but the exasperation was clear in her voice.
“I meant did you know he was the one… I was talking… mentioned?” Now he was rolling his eyes at himself. The truth was out though. In all honesty, he really hadn’t stopped talking about Hank Wolf since he’d seen him at Hungry on Friday night. Hank’s visit to his place Monday had just given him more to talk about.
Grandmere narrowed her eyes at him in a withering glare. “We had to book this even months ago dear. Now, I may have recognized the name when you mentioned him Saturday morning at breakfast, but… Why don’t you be a good boy and go fetch me and Ethel a plate?”
Smiling politely, Robert nodded. The last thing he wanted to do was walk over to that buffet line and fill a plate with Hank’s food while Hank stood by watching. But he didn’t have any choice, because he was, after all, a good boy. “Is there anything in particular you want or don’t want?”
“Oh no dear. We want to try everything. This is supposed to be an amazing feast.”
His feet dragged, but his heart raced as he joined the queue at the buffet table. Three servers in black aprons were asking each diner the same question, “Hungry?” And every time his ears caught the word, Robert shuddered.
Remembering the sensual, phallic meal Hank had served him on Friday, he was almost afraid to look at the table, but the scents were astounding. He picked up two plates and looked up to meet the server’s eyes. “Yes. They’re hungry.” His voice caught on the word, his cheeks heated… again. Robert jerked his head back over his shoulder to indicate his grandmere and her friend. “They want to try everything.”
The svelte blonde smiled seductively. “What about you handsome? What do you want to try?”
Robert blinked rapidly as a low growl rose from the other end of the table. Hair rose on the back of his neck, on his arms. “Um...I’ll…”
“I’ll fix his plate. You just keep this line moving.”
Robert’s lips parted on a sigh, his body hummed in acknowledgement. “Uh…” Unable to produce a word that made sense, he just waved the two pieces of china around.
He wouldn’t look. He refused to look. A tiny bowl of something landed on each plate. It looked like snow. He blinked again, glanced up, lips parted to ask. His gaze clashed with Hank’s, his mouth snapped shut and he swallowed his breath, choking.
“Sonny…” A brutal whack between the shoulder blades from an old man behind him got him breathing again. “I’d like to sample this meal before my pacemaker warranty runs out, if you don’t mind.”
“Sorry. So sorry to hold up the line.” He spoke to the crowd, but his vision blurred so he couldn't’ pick out any faces. Better that way. He moved down the line, no longer aware of the scents or the appearance of the food, conscious only of Hank’s deep blue eyes watching him and his own breath, lifting his chest, flaring his nostrils. 
It was amazing that he made it back to the table without spilling anything. He presented the plates to Grandmere and Ethel, and slumped into his own seat with a sigh of relief.
“And for you, Red. If I’d known you were coming I’d have cooked something for you. But this meal is special, designed to suit the theme of the gathering. Norse gods and all.”
The relief vanished when that deep, rough voice spoke right next to him. A plate full of exotic food appeared in front of him, and Robert’s stomach growled loudly. He covered his eyes with his hand and moaned in embarrassment. Why not? Why the fuck not? “Thank you,” Robert mumbled, refusing to look up.
Hank continued to stand next to him, as though waiting for him to take a bite, so Robert did. He scooped some of the snow onto a spoon and tasted it. “Green apple?”
“Granita. Palate cleanser.”
“It looks like snow.” Stupid. “I like it. It goes well with the….” He realized he hadn’t actually tasted anything else and forked up a bite of fish.
“I have to get back. It’s good to see you again, Red.”
Robert made a show of not swallowing, continuing to chew until Hank gave up waiting for a response and left. He swallowed what nwo tasted like sawdust and met four pairs of narrowed eyes defiantly. “What?”
“Boy… If you were my grandson…” One of the old men shook his head and gave Grandmere a pitying look. “Rosie, you’ll have to work hard to get this one up to snuff.”
“He’s a good boy. Just shy.” She squeezed his hand under the table, and Robert relaxed. He might be a disappointment, or an embarrassment, but he was loved.
He ate the rest of the meal in silence, listening to the older people at the table chat and laugh. His watched chimed, and he folded his napkin in relief. “Grandmere, I have to go. I am working the night shift at the diner.” He scooted back his chair and smiled politely at the rest of the table. “Enjoy your film.”
Grandmere stood up and walked a few feet away from the table with him, until they stood just beside the door and her handmade sign. “I think you should go say good-bye to Mr. Wolf. He didn’t stop watching you all through the meal.”
“Oh no… I can’t.” He shook his head frantically, then pushed the lock of yellow hair that had fallen in his eye back behind his ear.
“Robert… Look at me. I’m eighty-five years old and getting my jollies watching young men in tights save the world. I never had a lot of the things you did… never finished high school let alone college. I had a good life… but I often wonder how things would have been different if I hadn’t met your grandpere. If he hadn’t been such a charming rascal.”
He bit his lip and reached for her hand. “Grandmere… you can go to college. I can help you.”
Grandmere snatched her hand back and pushed him lightly in the chest. “Don’t be silly. I haed school. I had a great life. I want you to have it too. That rascally chef… well, he reminds me of your grandpere when he was young, and … You’re a good boy, Robert. Too good. I want that,” she nodded over his shoulder, and even though he couldn't’ see, he knew she was indicating Hank. “for you. If you don’t do anything bad… or risky, then you aren’t really living life are you? Take a chance. Ask that scalawag to have a drink with you… not that tame coffee stuff couples do now either. A good old-fashioned whisky. Share a whisky and see what happens.” She pulled him down, brushed dry lips over his cheek and whispered in his ear. “That’s how I caught grandpere, you know. Lowered his inhibitions with a good stiff drink, and he forgot all about my age and his.”
“Argh.” The garbled sound was all he could manage as Grandmere nodded serenely and walked back to her friends.
“Were you leaving?” Hank appeared before him.
Stealth chef. That’s what he was. Sneaky. “I have to work. My assistant manager needs the night off.
“That’s too bad. I was kind of hoping we could watch Thor together.” Hank’s brows waggled suggestively. “Chris Hemsworth? And don’t tell anyone,” he leaned in close so his breath brushed Robert’s ear. “But I have a real thing for these Marvel super hero movies. I have every episode of S.H.I.E.L.D dvr’ed.”
The disappointment in Hanks’ voice sounded genuine, and the heated caress of his words made Robert’s knees weak. He stiffened his spine, found his voice, and his balls, and … “We close early on Monday’s. I’m going to head over to Toro for some tapas and wine afterward, if you’d like to meet me.”



TO BE CONTINUED 

If you enjoyed my post, click on over to the rest of the Orgiasts and read more! 


Few Left in Stock! #ordermore #sale #mmromance

Now on Sale! 
Paperback books are always so expensive, I hesitated to even make a paper edition of this one. But I was able to purchase author copies at a significant discount, which allows me to pass the savings on to the readers by selling them myself at a price lower than Amazon or Createspace will allow. 

The Park at Sunrise

 by Lee Brazil

Now in Paperback
$6.00 
(includes shipping and handling.)  

 

Also available through Amazon and Createspace for 7.99 plus shipping and handling. 

First they were three, now there are two. Can Jason and Morgan make a relationship work without Paul? 

For years the three of them had been inseparable, first as friends, then lovers. It's been ten years since they parted for what was supposed to be a year apart to pursue their dreams. This isn't the reunion they planned then. It's nine years too late for one thing, and they are one man short for another.

In the years since Paul's death, Morgan hasn't exactly been waiting for Jason to reach out to him. He's been too busy trying to forget, to move on. Until Jason sends the right message. Is the painting just an excuse to see his ex again?

EXCERPT
The park at sunrise. How many nights had we ended up here? Coffee from the all-night truck stop in Jamestown in hand, steam rising as we walked, searching for that most exclusive private spot where we could see but not be seen. The bench that was sheltered by just the right number of trees, with the best view of the pond and the flagpoles and the sunrise.

Nights of parties, concerts, hanging out, or working had all ended in this spot. When the fun was done, we sobered up as the sun rose here. When we were exhausted from working those double shifts and pulling all-nighters, the sunrise reminded us why we worked so hard. When we were flying high on concert-induced endorphins, it spun wild dreams in our heads that spilled from our mouths in raucous harmony. The three of us, wrapped in one blanket, sipping from one bottle, from one cup, contemplated that sunrise. In snow and rain and heat and cold we huddled here. For four years, this place colored our lives in ways we couldn't imagine.

The bench we'd claimed as ours drew me onward. My feet recognized the path, if my mind did not. In the inside pocket of my too-thin-for-the-Colorado-cold-but just-right-for-California black leather jacket, the crinkle of paper jabbed at my soul. As much as anything else, it was why I was here.
When I found it, the bench was still the same with its old, wrought-iron rails and splintery wooden slats. I stopped. Progressing from here would be harder. The cold seeped through the inadequate leather soles of my knee-high black boots, chilling my feet. Once I'd known how to dress for the cold. Once cold hadn't mattered. I'd had their warmth to keep me warm. For years I'd had a vision, locked in my head. This bench, this park, the sun rising in the background. The first flakes of falling snow drifting down. On the bench, two men whose heads turned as I approached, who jumped to their feet with open arms and welcoming smiles. The first time we met here, the last time we met here.
Today, I had a memory. A sunrise that would start soon. I forced myself forward, placed one booted foot on the seat and hoisted myself into the familiar position, buttocks perched on the topmost slat of the bench. Splinters prickled against the seat of my 501s, but the first changing light as the sun made its appearance caught my gaze. Since the last time I'd sat here, the last time we'd been together, I hadn't sat through many sunrises. I'd observed a lot of sunsets on the Pacific coast, but the sunrise had become a time of regret.

As I leaned forward to rest my elbows on my knees and prop my chin in my hands, the crinkle of the envelope in my pocket and the crunch of dead leaves on the grass behind me competed for my attention. I drew the envelope from my inner pocket as the footsteps approached. I knew who it was. Had realized he would be here, though how he had known I would be was anyone's guess. It appeared to me that I hardly knew what I was doing, catching that plane, leaving behind friends and commitments. Me. Mr. Responsible. Reliable. Dependable. Had I even called in and told the principal I wouldn't be there for the last week of classes? I couldn't recall. He'd figure it out when the Calc I kids showed up for the key to the classroom, no doubt.

The sudden drag of a wool cap being tugged down over my long hair startled me. It shouldn't have. I should have predicted he'd be in this "taking care of Morgan" mode. At twenty two it had been endearing; at thirty two it pissed me off. Deep, calming breaths kept the anger manageable. Come here, do what needed to be done, get on the next plane back to California, back to emotional stability.
"I see you're dressed for the weather as always, Morgan." Jason's voice was husky, hesitant.
A pair of black knit gloves landing in my lap tipped me over that edge from making a snide remark to throwing an uncalled-for hissy fit.

My jaw clenched tightly. Screw breathing deeply. I yanked the cap from my head, pulling long strands of black hair from the band at my neck, and winced at the tiny pain. I flung the cap to the ground in front of us and looked up the black denim-clad legs to the black pea coat and beyond. My mouth opened to swear, but no sound came out. The hissy fit drained away to something else entirely. My pulse still raced, but for an entirely different reason.

How fair was that? How fucking fair was it that after ten years apart, my hair showed silvery streaks and my face showed my age, but Jason was still the slender, boyish youth of years gone by? Yeah, he'd shaved the dirty blond dreadlocks. Those wire-rim glasses were new, but he appeared as youthful and vibrant, untouched by life, alive as he had when we'd all parted years ago to make those sunrise dreams reality. His black jeans had the telltale smudges of paint, and I'd be willing to bet that underneath those leather driving gloves lurked more paint.

This wasn't the reunion we planned then. It was nine years too late, for one thing. We were one man short, for another.

The bench creaked as he perched next to me on the top slat, and instinctively I grabbed his knee to anchor both of us so we wouldn't topple backward. His hand covered mine before I could jerk it away, and he refused to relinquish it when I tugged. I gave in with ill grace. Jason’s touch stirred physical responses that I’d rather not experience.

"I sent you an invitation to my gallery opening last year."

"I got it."

"You couldn't make it." No judgment. Levelheaded, easygoing, that was Jason. I didn't even understand how he knew to send the damn invitation to the school in the first place. For all I knew, he still lived with his parents and painted in that fucking unheated studio over their garage.

I handed him the envelope. The envelope that had brought me here, as he had known it would, when nothing else could. "I want to buy it."

He shook his head. "It's not for sale. That's not why I sent it to you."

Heat pooled at the back of my neck, and the tiny, irritating noise of my own teeth grinding warned of a potential headache in the offing. I turned, made eye contact for the first time. "Then why? Why send it? Fuck, why paint it? How the hell could you even stand to paint that picture? It kills me that you could have done that, like it doesn't mean fucking anything to you." By the time I spit out the last words, my voice had risen enough to scare off the waterfowl in the pond.

The expression on his face was one I'd never noticed before. I thought I had all their expressions memorized, his and Paul's. Oh, Christ. "Paul." The name slipped out, the memories in. I dropped my head to my knees again, breaking eye contact. I had to create mental distance since physical wasn't possible. I was empty, raw. My stomach tightened and my eyes burned.

"Morgan, it means everything to me. It's all I have. That painting, it's the heart and soul of who I am, who you are, who Paul was." The hand clutching mine drew away, and I nearly protested as cold took its place. Then I felt him fussing. I rolled my eyes as he loosened the band from my hair and combed his fingers through it before gathering it back into a neater ponytail, smoothing the hairs pulled loose by the wool cap. It felt too good to be cared for like that again. I jerked upright and away.

"Damn it, Jason, I don't want to go there. We can't recapture the past! You are not my mother. You are not Paul." I narrowed my eyes and gave him the look that intimidated school board members and recalcitrant football players alike. "Why did you send it if you won't sell me the painting?"

"Were you here? May twenty-sixth, two thousand one? Because I was."

I stared at him. My anger was fading, heart rate returning to normal. The heat from earlier was replaced by a chill that had nothing to do with the low temperature. Surely he was kidding. "Why? Why did you bother? Paul was dead by then. You had to know I wouldn't come."

"No, I didn't. See, somehow, I never thought it was all about you and Paul. Somehow, I thought it was all about you, me, and Paul. I guess I naively believed that without Paul, you and I would need each other even more."

I couldn't speak, but the shock must have shown on my face. With an impatient sigh, Jason jumped from the bench. I automatically steadied myself, swaying slightly as the bench protested the sudden movement.

He tossed the photo from the envelope into my lap. "I have it crated and ready to ship. Pick it up at my parents' house any time. I won't be there."

I didn't look up. I didn't speak. I listened to his footsteps, muffled now by the snow that had fallen on the crunching leaves. As the colors changed and faded from the morning sky, I stared at the photo of the painting that had brought me here. Three men on a bench in a park at sunrise, three heads pressed together, three hands clasped. If one of the images was a little blurry, I couldn't tell if that was the artist's intent, the tears in my eyes, or the snow that fell on the photo.






ISBN-13: 978-1505678796
ISBN-10: 150567879X
Also available through Amazon and Createspace

Be Yourself

To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting. ~e.e. cummings, 1955