Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Love Letters Post #6

Notes: And on we go!  Not much to say, really, we’re building the basis for a whole new relationship.  Read on and enjoy.


Title: Love Letters


Part Six: Ties As Lifelines




One beer over lunch turned into two, then three.  Their plates were taken away but the waiter never brought the check, never hinted that they should go.  He just kept bringing them fresh, full glasses and, once Ben realized he was getting drunk, water as well.

Getting drunk hadn’t been the plan.  There hadn’t been much of a plan to begin with: find whoever invited him, figure out why, leave after the memorial.  This trip wasn’t supposed to be about having a good time, and answering a question was only a side note; the trip was supposed to be about Brody.  But here they were, with the sky gone dark outside, drinking and laughing.  Ryan looked so much better when he was laughing.  He looked real, not like a stiff plastic doll, not like something he so clearly couldn’t be.  His jacket and tie were on the seat beside him, and his shirt sleeves were pushed up to his elbow.  His left arm was tattooed from the elbow to the wrist, a brilliant winding serpent with eyes like emeralds gleaming against dusky scales.  His hair was a perfect mess, and his pale cheeks were flushed from giggling.

“He never told me that story,” Ryan said between little gasps, still cracking up.  “Not that he would, I mean, it’s not the sort of thing you tell your little brother, but…really?”

“I swear to god,” Ben laughed, sitting back and crossing his long fingers over his heart.  “I have no idea why he thought I was the right person to bring that particular concern to, because I know next to nothing about being in relationships with women.  I had exactly one girlfriend for one semester my freshmen year of college before I figured out it wasn’t for me.  We never even had sex.  I certainly never had to deal with getting her any sort of present.”

“And so he settled on…”

“Yeah.”  Ben stretched out his legs and sighed, enjoying the quivering tension in his stomach muscles.  It felt like it had been forever since he’d really let loose.  A foot slipped around his ankle, and he smiled.  The Kuzniars, with one notable exception, were the touchy-feeliest family Ben had ever met.  Ryan had been at it all night, brushing their fingers together or playing footsie.  He didn’t even seem to realize he was doing it most of the time, and the first few times, when Ben jerked with surprise, Ryan had apologized, equally surprised.  After a few hours, though, Ben had gotten used to it.  He even kind of liked it.  It was the sort of relaxed, casual touching that had never been a part of Ben’s life, and there was something comforting in the simple assumption of rightness, like there was never any question the contact would be okay.  “Cheryl was not happy, from what I gathered.”

“Cheryl doesn’t really do happy,” Ryan said, then looked a little guilty.  “Not that I’d know, again…”

“You’d probably know better than me,” Ben mused.  “I have to ask—what’s her problem with me?  It’s not the gay thing, is it?”

“Nah, she’s not that kind of bigot,” Ryan said earnestly.  Ben took a moment to wonder what kind of bigot she was before Ryan continued.  “She just likes to be number one in everything, you know?  When she and Brody got together it was like some sort of modern-day fairytale: he was the star quarterback, she was the head cheerleader.  As far as she was concerned, life was perfect.  Then she got pregnant at the end of junior year.”

“Yeah, I remember Brody freaking out about that.”  Maybe Ben was being too candid now, but Ryan looked intrigued and fuck it, he wasn’t hurting anyone.  “He actually called me up to tell me what was going on.  I’ve only ever talked on the phone with him twice, and that was the first time.  Except for when he drunk dialed me from Rome, but that didn’t really count because I couldn’t understand a word he said.”

Ryan was grinning again, his eyes shining with happiness and not tears now.  “He drunk dialed you from Rome?”

“Yeah, he was lost, I think.  It really freaked me out at the time; I thought he was in trouble.”  Ben had actually tried to contact the police there, but they hadn’t had time for a worried American who couldn’t even describe the man he was trying to tell them about.

“He drunk dialed me once, but that was just from the bathroom at his bachelor’s party.  He snuck me into the bar, but I was the only one too young to drink, so I got the job of keeping him functional,” Ryan said.

“He snuck you into his bachelor’s party?”

“Yeah.”  Ryan smiled nostalgically.  “I was only fourteen; it was a pretty big deal for me.  I don’t know what I’d been expecting, but it wasn’t as wild as I’d hoped for.  While there was a stripper she was female, of course, and the rest of the time the guys just did shots and shouted at whatever game was going on the television.  Brody was mostly sober for the wedding, at least.”

“That’s something,” Ben agreed.

“Yeah…but Cheryl!  We were talking about Cheryl.”  Ryan drained the last of his beer.  “She dropped out of college when she got pregnant.  She had all these expectations, right?  Brody was going to play for the NFL, they’d have a huge house, she could be a pretty sports wife and have perfect pretty children.  But Brody joined the army instead.  He was deployed a lot, and Cheryl pretty much raised Molly for the first two years by herself.  Then when they had Joey, Brody switched over to the police force, but it was mostly for the kids’ sake.  The two of them didn’t really get along all that well.  They didn’t have a lot in common except for the kids. 

“And she never liked you,” Ryan continued with an air of confession.  “She couldn’t resent her own kids, and she didn’t resent me or Pam or Mom because we’re family, but she could resent you, because you made Brody happy.  She wouldn’t let him text with you where she could see, and she returned the copy of your book that Brody bought for himself to the store.”

“Good thing I mailed him a signed copy,” Ben said, a little taken aback.

“You did?”  Ryan looked kind of wistful.  “That was nice of you.”

“But not very modest.”

“Brody liked to brag about you, when Cheryl wasn’t around.  You were his…” Ryan lost his momentum, waiving one hand aimlessly.  “His person.  His friend that was just for him, even though he still shared you with me sometimes.  He forwarded your ironic Zen Christmas card to me.”

Ben felt himself blush.  “That was just a joke.”  He had been up far too late, listening to Alan Watts while racking his brain over his next book, and something the man said had struck a chord.  So Ben had taken it and made it his Christmas card.  It wasn’t like he celebrated a traditional Christmas, anyway.  His few friends, his agent and his publisher all got this:

“To remain stable is to refrain from trying to separate yourself from a pain because you know that you cannot. Running away from fear is fear, fighting pain is pain, trying to be brave is being scared. If the mind is in pain, the mind is pain. The thinker has no other form than his thought.

There is no escape.”

Merry Christmas!!!

“I thought it was funny,” Ryan told him with a grin.

“Well, that makes one of you.”

“Brody thought it was funny too.”

“Oh.”  Ben had thought he would, but they hadn’t had time to talk much before Brody’s death.  “That’s good.”  The awful weariness that had been threatening to overwhelm him started to raise its head, and Ben searched for something else to talk about, something that would steer his own mind away from the pain.  “You know everything about me already, so tell me more about yourself.”

Ryan’s expression very clearly said that he didn’t know everything he wanted to know, but he rolled with the change.  “I live in Boston, I have since I graduated.  I love it there, and there’s actually a pretty substantial creative community, especially with regards to writing.”

Distantly, Ben could recall a few messages from Brody mentioning his baby brother’s talent for art and design.  Something about comics… “You draw for a living, right?”

“Draw and write.  I have my own graphic novel, Janie and the Phantom.  It’s not DC or Marvel-worthy or anything, but I love it,” Ryan enthused.  “I started putting it up online last year and it got some good press, enough that I get to focus on it now instead of splitting my time between that and my friend’s coffee shop.”  He paused and lowered his eyes.  “I mean, it’s not serious writing like you do, but I enjoy it.”

“At least you’re doing something creative,” Ben replied, and wondered how they’d suddenly slipped into the high school game of I-suck-more-than-you-do.  “I’d like to read it.”

“I’ll send you a copy,” Ryan promised him, smiling again.  “Signed, even.”

“Thank you.”  Ben glanced down at his watch and started in surprise.  It was seven o clock; god, how had the time passed so quickly?  He had a flight back to Denver at ten, and he still had to get his stuff from his hotel room.  “Ryan…”

“Oh no.”  Ryan sounded dismayed.  “You aren’t leaving tonight, are you?”

“I didn’t think I’d need to be here any longer,” Ben said apologetically.  He hadn’t thought he’d want to be here any longer either, but then he’d never figured on Ryan Kuzniar either.  He looked so young—Ben could barely remember being so young, even though they were only six years apart, and he was sure he’d never been so youthful.  This didn’t feel like the right time to leave, there were still things to learn here.  He wanted to see Ryan in clothes that suited him, or even better, with no clothes at all, so he could seek out and memorize every intricately tattooed plane of skin. 

Just then Ben’s subconscious perked up and kicked him in the head.  You’re picturing your best friend’s grieving younger brother naked.  Stop it, perv.  “I’m sorry,” he offered, trying to assuage the disappointment on Ryan’s face.

Ryan forced a smile.  “It’s okay.  I appreciate you spending as much time as you did with me.  You’re…you were important to him, you know?  And I wanted to make sure you knew that at least one of us knew that.”

Fuck, looking at Ryan made Ben’s heart ache.  He looked sad and lost and somehow grateful, and that was just wrong.  Ben hadn’t done anything worthy of that kind of gratitude, but he could try.  “I’ve got time to drive you back, if you want.”

Ryan’s fingers twitched toward Ben’s, but he didn’t reach out.  “I can just call a cab…”

“I’d like to drive you.”  Ben could do persuasive, and honestly Ryan didn’t need much of a push.

“Thank you.”  They stood up out of the booth and Ryan pushed his sleeves back down, buttoned his shirt back up and put his jacket on.  It was like watching an exotic bird molt, to go from brightly colored to dull and drab.  The transformation was kind of depressing. 

The drive was pretty quiet, Ryan providing directions and Ben following them.  All of the tension that they had been able to forget about built back up as they drew closer and closer to Ryan’s childhood home.  Apparently Cheryl was living there right now so that DeeDee could help with the kids, so there was no question of Ben taking a moment to go inside and say goodbye to the rest of the family.

Ben parked outside a large, two story Victorian style house flanked by enormous maple trees.  It was a beautiful, stately place, the kind of place he imagined not even a blade of grass would dare to do anything other than stand up perfectly straight.

“So…” Ryan drawled.  He tried to put on a smile, but his muscles seemed to be paralyzed.  “I guess that’s it.”

Ben stared at him for a long moment, wanting to soothe but not sure what to say.  After enough seconds passed for it to start to get awkward, he blurted, “Your tie is missing.”

“Oh.”  Ryan’s hand flew to his neck.  “Oh, shit, I must have left it at the restaurant.  Damn it.”  He looked unhappily at Ben.  “Don’t worry, we don’t have to go back for it, I’ll just—”

“Here.”  Before he could think about what he was doing, Ben loosened his own tie and pulled it off, then touched Ryan’s shoulder and drew him in closer.  Ryan sat silently, wide-eyed, as Ben looped the tie around Ryan’s neck and snugged the knot up into the hollow of his throat.  The bare skin there was tantalizing, pale and cool and just waiting to be warmed, but Ben forced his hands down the front of Ryan’s jacket instead, smoothing it uselessly.  “Now you’re a proper southern gentleman again,” Ben said softly.

A second later Ryan’s upper body was flush to Ben’s, both of them twisted around in their seats as Ryan tried to hug all the air out of Ben.  Ben returned the embrace, taking a moment to close his eyes and relish the contact, his second hug today and the most human contact he’d had in months.  They sat like that until the twist in his back forced Ben to ease off, but he didn’t let go entirely, just swiped his thumbs over Ryan’s cheekbones, wiping away the tears that had appeared.  Ryan shut his eyes and god, he looked so sad, so vulnerable.  Ben didn’t want to send him back into that house, that place where he didn’t belong, but he had to go.

“You all right?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Ryan said around a sniff.  “I will be.”

“Here.”  Ben dropped one hand to his pocket and fished around until he found one of his cards.  He thought it was stupidly pretentious, a writer carrying business cards, but Linda had insisted.  “This has all my information on it.  Just…keep in touch, okay?”

Ben hadn’t been sure that this was the right move, but the blinding grin that came over Ryan’s face reassured him.  “I will,” he promised.

“Good.”  The urge to lean in and…and something was growing stronger, so Ben had to leave before he fucked things up.  He let go and sat back in the seat.  “It was good to meet you, Ryan.”

“You too.  Thank you so much for coming,” Ryan said.  He looked like he might say more, then thought better of it and got out of the car.  He straightened his sleeves, adjusted the tie slightly, then walked up the long walkway to the house.  Ben watched until Ryan disappeared, then started up the car with a sigh and pulled away from the curb.

He should have gone straight back to the hotel, he was going to be pushing it as it was, but he made a quick stop at The Roasting Company and ran in, looking for the tie.  The hostess handed it over before he could get two words out.

“I was hoping one of you would come back for that,” she said cheerfully.  “It would be a shame to lose it.”

It would, actually.  The silk tie was skinnier than Ben wore, dark but with faint blue accents in it that reminded Ben of Ryan’s eyes.  Ben thanked her for holding onto it and ran back out to the car, now really needing to push it if he was going to make his plane.

In the end he made it with fifteen minutes to spare.  As he settled into his seat, Ben checked his phone one last time before turning it off.  There was a text waiting for him that he hadn’t heard come in, from an unfamiliar number.  He opened it.

Im still wearing your tie. I like it-you may never get it back.

Ben smiled and typed out, Fair enough, I’m wearing yours. It’s a mutual hostage situation.

Negotiate tomorrow, tired now. Have a good flight.

Sleep well.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Love Letters Post #5


Notes: Oof, heavy.  Don’t worry, things will lighten up in the next part.  For now though, at least the boys are alone.  Thanks so much for reading, guys!  Your feedback is inspiringJ


Title: Love Letters


Part Five: The Lunch of Revelations





Ryan had carpooled to the church with his mother, so they took Ben’s car to the spot he had in mind.  It was closer to Charlotte than to Concord, and when Ryan parked out in front of the place, Ben was more than a little surprised. 

“The Roasting Company,” he read off the sign, which featured a chicken wearing a sombrero.  “Really?”

“It’s a great place,” Ryan assured him with a smile.  Ben was starting to think he’d believe almost anything if Ryan kept smiling, but his face must not have conveyed his trust.  “The food is delicious, and you can get a booth in the back and people will leave you alone.  I used to meet Brody here on the weekends before he shipped out after college.”

Something wasn’t adding up in Ben’s mind.  “How old are you?” he asked as they got out of the car and headed into the restaurant.  Ryan walked close to him, and held the door as they entered.

The interior was about what you’d expect from a diner.  Circular overhead lights shined too brightly on the scuffed laminate floor, and the hostess at the front could barely be heard over the Bob Marley track playing.  Several of the walls were brick, and lights from various neon signs gave the place a slightly funhouse feel.  Ryan seemed to relax almost instantly as the girl led them to a high-backed booth.  Despite the noise, it actually did feel kind of private.

“I’m twenty-six,” Ryan said after the hostess gave them a couple glasses of water and walked away.

Six years younger than Brody.  “So you were in high school while he was at Duke.”


“Why meet him here?”  There had to be decent restaurants in Concord, closer to their parent’s house.  If Brody was driving the two-plus hours it would take to get from Durham, where Duke University was, to this part of the state then surely it was to see the whole family.

“Um.”  It was hard to tell in this lighting, but Ben thought Ryan might have been blushing.  “I wasn’t living at home at the time.  Whenever Brody would go home for weekends, he’d make a detour to come and see me.  I wasn’t old enough to drive, but this place is within walking distance of my school.”

“What kind of school?” Ben asked.

“A private boarding school, for challenging children.”  Ryan dropped his eyes and fiddled with his water glass, pushing it back and forth across the slick bed of condensation that appeared beneath it.  Ben drank a little from his own glass to give Ryan a reprieve, and give himself time to figure out what he actually wanted to know.

The problem was, Ben wanted to know too much.  “I don’t want it to seem as though I’m interrogating you…”

“No!” Ryan looked up again, his blue eyes wide and his expression earnest.  “I want to talk.  I don’t mind telling you things.  That was years ago, anyway.”

Their waiter came over and interrupted the moment, which was fine with Ben.  He needed to think.  He ordered one of the beers on tap, a quarter of a rotisserie chicken and the sides that Ryan recommended, then sat back and gathered his thoughts.  So far, they weren’t very happy ones.

It was clear that there was some kind of rift between Ryan and his family.  Ben wasn’t here to pry; he didn’t need or want to know the details of the Kuzniar clan’s private life, but now that he was alone with Ryan, Ben couldn’t deny that he was curious.  Curious as to how this man could be so different from the rest of his family.  Ben noticed the thin lines of blue polish down at Ryan’s cuticles, where he hadn’t been able to completely remove it.  The empty piercing holes were just begging to be filled, and his hair…that couldn’t be the way he normally kept it.  Ben wanted to see the real Ryan, not this sad, dutiful version that seemed so uncomfortable in his own skin.

“So you didn’t go to the same high school as Pam and Brody?” Ben asked after the waiter left.

Ryan shook his head.  “No.  My parents thought it would be better for everyone if I was removed from their immediate vicinity.”  He shrugged listlessly.  “They may have been right.  I wasn’t doing a very good job of fitting in at home.”

“Why not?”

Ryan heaved a big sigh and sat back, running his hand through his slicked-down hair.  It actually looked much better once it was a little messier.  “Okay, before I explain about this, promise me you won’t get mad.”

Ben was completely confused.  “Why would I get mad?”

Ryan shifted uncomfortably.  “Well, you might think it’s a violation of your privacy, and I get that, but really, you have no idea what it meant to me, and even Brody came around eventually, and—”

Ben reached out and put a hand over Ryan’s before he could stop himself.  It was just to focus the younger man.  It had nothing to do with his fingertips wanting to linger against the soft, cool skin.  “Ryan.  What are you talking about?”

Ryan shut his eyes and took a deep breath, but didn’t pull his hand away.  “I read your letters!” he blurted after a moment.  “When Brody went away to college he left a lot of stuff in his room, and I was being a brat one day and snooping around and I found a stack of your letters in a box in his closet.  A huge stack.  And I read them all.”  Ryan twitched under Ben’s hand like he wanted to move, to gesture, and he looked anxious.

“Oh.”  Wow, that wasn’t the revelation that Ben had been expecting.  He pulled back, much to Ryan’s evident discontent, and took a moment to consider that.

If Ryan had read every letter from the time Ben and Brody started writing to the time Brody left for college, that was…eight years’ worth of correspondence.  Two letters a month, not quite as many once they started emailing, then that still had to be almost two hundred and fifty letters.  Letters that had, very definitely, been private; letters Ben had written about his father and mother, letters from abroad.  Letters in which he had bared his soul, because it was safe for him to do so.  That was the deal.  Ryan reading through those letters had definitely not been part of the deal.

Ryan seemed to feel compelled to fill the silence, and what he had to say almost broke Ben’s heart.  “I’m so sorry, I know it wasn’t the right thing to do, but I—I kind of didn’t have a lot of friends back then, and so I was home a lot, and alone, and when I found them and started reading I just had to continue, because you were so interesting.  It was like I’d found this amazing treasure, this special secret person that I could relate to, that made me feel better when nothing else could.  I was twelve when I found them.  Almost thirteen, I was just starting the eighth grade, and I was pretty much a loner.  I didn’t have anyone at home or at school I could relate to, but somehow I felt like I connected to a lot of what you wrote about.

“Brody found out, when he came home for Christmas break,” Ryan said after a moment’s pause.  His eyes were glinting again, damp around the edges.  “I didn’t even think about putting them back in his room.  I’d already read them all, but I couldn’t bear to part with them.  He found them under my bed.”  Ryan squeezed his eyes shut, and a tear rolled down his face.  “He lost it and started yelling at me and I yelled back, because I didn’t want him to take them.  We shouted back and forth and he called me gay—just as an insult, I don’t think he actually thought I was, but when he said it it was almost a relief, like him saying it kind of gave me permission to agree.  And I did.  Loudly.  And then my parents got involved.

“My dad told me I wasn’t gay.  I insisted I was.  He grounded me for all of break, and when school started again…”  Ryan tried to smile, but it wasn’t convincing.  “I decided not to hide anymore.  I came out very, very visibly.  I flirted with boys, I wore makeup, I got beaten up a few times.  I was arrested once.  My dad was running for mayor at the time and he didn’t want me making a scene, so naturally that made me even more determined to make one.”  Ryan looked down and started to worry at the edge of his paper napkin.

“Dad lost the election and I barely passed the eighth grade.  My parents sent me to a re-education camp in Utah over the summer, and when that didn’t work they sent me away for high school.  Out of sight, out of mind.”

“Jesus Christ,” Ben murmured.  Ryan looked like he wanted to melt into the booth, like he expected Ben to start yelling, or get up and walk out.  Ben leaned toward him, taking his hand again.  Shit, Ryan’s fingers were freezing.  “I’m not mad,” he assured Ryan, and he really wasn’t.  The letters had been intended for Brody’s eyes only, but Ben of all people knew how important that sort of personal connection could be for someone.  He had inherited a priceless collection of Benjamin Franklin’s own letters from his grandfather, and those words, which had never been intended for sharing, had become inspiration to thousands of people.  If Ryan had gotten the tiniest bit of comfort from whatever Ben had written, then it wasn’t a violation; it was a gift.  “I’m glad you got to read them, if they meant so much to you.”

“So much,” Ryan agreed, using his free hand to wipe at his eyes.  His smile had resurfaced, at least.  “I meant it back at the church when I said that Brody was my role model.  He was the perfect person in so many ways, you know?  He was smart and athletic and my parents loved him.  Everybody loved him.  But Brody and me, we didn’t have a close relationship.  We basically didn’t have any relationship until after our fight; I was always too young for him to want to do things with me.  But things changed after we both left home.

“Brody was in his sophomore year at Duke when I started high school.  I didn’t expect to hear from him, ever.  I didn’t even go home on the weekends when he was around.  But one Sunday, when he was supposed to be heading back to Durham, Brody stopped by my dorm and brought me here, to have lunch.” 

Ryan pointed behind himself and to the left.  “We sat at the last booth next to the door over there.  He bought me lunch and handed me a stack of letters.  They were everything you’d sent him since he’d started college.

“He said that just because I was gay didn’t mean I should be treated like a leper, and he was sorry he’d gotten me into so much trouble, and that if it meant so much to me, I could read your letters.  He told me you wouldn’t mind.”  Ryan turned his hand around and threaded his fingers through Ben’s with a grateful grin.  “And look.  He was right.”

“Jesus, Ryan.”  Ben shook his head incredulously.  “I didn’t know any of this. Brody never really talked about you.  He talked about Cheryl, he talked about your parents, the kids, but almost never you.”

“Well, like I said, we weren’t close.”  That fact was clearly an open wound for Ryan, but one he’d done his best to get over.  “But every week that he came down to visit, he’d always come and have lunch with me, and he’d bring me your newest letter to read.  You were the only thing he and I had in common, and I was so grateful to him for sharing you with me.”

“I’m grateful that he did too,” Ben said with complete honesty.  “I’ve never thought…”  Really, he’d never thought of himself as anything close to interesting.  Ben wrote about interesting people, he was descended from interesting people, but not so much himself.  He didn’t know what Ryan saw in him, but he was glad to have helped, however inadvertently.

He might have continued, but just then, their food arrived.  Ben let go of Ryan’s hand and pulled his arm back to make room, not missing Ryan’s quick pout when they separated.  He was starving, though, and it smelled so good.

Ryan picked up his beer and held it out.  “To Brody.  One of the best people I’ve ever known.”

Ben clinked their glasses together gently.  “To Brody.”  It was nowhere near remembrance enough, but for right now, it would do.



Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Super Short Notice V-Day Contest!-(is over:)

Aww, it's Valentine's Day!  And it's my anniversary! (For the paperwork--we ended up having to have a ceremony anyway because my mother threatened to cry/dismember me).  Feel the love!

It's been a good week so far, the first episode of my serial story has gotten some great reviews.

At The Armchair ReaderI’m really excited about what is to come this first season of the serial. Devon seems like he can easily get into all kinds of trouble and Rio can always get him out. And the chemistry they have together is explosive. What I really loved was how funny I found this to be, mostly in tone. The point of view comes from both Devon and Rio, so we get a different variation on the scene depending on who is narrating, but what their voices both have in common is a kind of nonchalance for the violence they cause. That detachment struck me as funny for some reason, in a bit of a Tarantino way. And combined with the fact that everything Devon does is tinged with sex, made for a unique and well-written story. I’m just glad that it’s only the beginning!

And by Lisa at Attention Is Arbitrary: I was impressed by the energy and excitement of the action scenes. The smoothness of Rio’s killer confidence makes me want to be behind him in any gun battle. Another highlight is the anticipation of a sexual encounter between Rio and Devon. Unfortunately the steamy build up was better than the act itself. I’m not saying it was a total let down, but I needed to ‘see’ more. That being said I realize this is a serial and we can’t have it all too soon. The fact that I want to see more gritty detail really says it all, right?

Action, excitement, fun, humor, semi-casual violence and sexiness.  All for you, all for 99 cents if you just want to try it out.  But you don't even have to pay today.  All you have to do is drop me a comment on, oh, anything, and at the end of the day (tomorrow morning, actually, since this is so bloody short notice) I'll pick a name out of the hat and send the lucky winner a copy of Episode One.  You get an extra entry if you follow me on Twitter (https://twitter.com/author_cariz, I just need to know your handle), or if you visit Pants Off Reviews and comment on my post there today: Cari Z at Pants Off Reviews, or if you follow me on my blog here! 

If you win and you've already bought Episode One, or are in the mood for something else, my backlist is available to you as well.  You happy makes me happy:)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Love Letters Post #4

Notes: Finally, a meeting!  Not a lot of explanation, but it’s coming.  I’m going to have so much fun writing these two guys together, I can already tell.  These posts tend to run long as it is…enjoy, guys!

Title: Love Letters

Part Four:  Mourning Is A Spectator Sport



The Fellowship Hall was thick with the smell of casserole.  It was an aroma that Ben was very familiar with; casserole, in its generic form, had been one of the only dishes his mother had ever made.  Tuna noodle, lasagna, green bean, cheese and potato, shepherd’s pie…it all mixed together into a buttery haze, so heavy in the air that Ben thought he might be able to spread it with a knife if he tried. 

The space beneath the church was divided into various rooms, but the Hall was the largest one, and it was packed to the brim with people and food.  One whole wall was nothing but tables covered with pies, cakes, cookies and casseroles, their tin foil peeled back to expose the delicate innards, which were scooped up haphazardly onto plates by circulating church folk and handed over to each new entrant.  Ben accepted his own paper plate and plastic fork with a muted thank you, then examined the offering.  Tuna noodle, with the top burnt almost black, a gingerbread cookie probably left over from someone’s Christmas party, and a piece of—he leaned in and sniffed—sweet potato pie, with a fluffy meringue topping.

“That’s my wife’s pie there,” Greg said from behind him.  “Best pie in the county.  She adds lemon juice to the meringue, makes the filling taste sweeter.  Give it a try, son.”

Ben cut off the end of the wedge and brought the slender sample to his mouth.  It was…huh, it actually was really good.  He’d never had sweet potato pie before, and didn’t care for pumpkin, but this was…

“It’s delicious,” he told Greg honestly.

Greg smiled.  “I thought you might like it.”  He craned his neck and looked around the room.  “Go on and mingle some, son, it looks like the Kuzniars are pretty walled in at the moment.”  He patted Ben on the back, then disappeared into the crowd of people.  Ben felt his momentary courage flicker and die as he was left alone, surrounded by somber chatter and black crape hats.  He moved, because moving felt like the best way to appear purposeful without having to attempt a conversation with a stranger, then finished his pie, because one bite had been enough to remind his stomach that he was running on empty.  The tuna and the stale cookie went into the nearest trashcan.

Ben still couldn’t make out Ryan.  There really were a lot of people over by the family.  Maybe it would be best if he went upstairs for now, out of the cloying heat and the soft sadness, and waited for the crowd to thin a bit.  Mind decided, Ben headed for the exit, making a quick detour to pick up a cup of coffee, because now that his stomach was awake, his brain was starting to demand more caffeine.

The table with the carafes was as packed as the rest of the place, but Ben managed to wend his way through and grab a cup of hot, black nirvana.  The coffee was actually pretty good.

“Excuse me, honey, could you pass me the sugar?”

Ben reacted to the gentle request before he could even see who was asking him.  “Of course.”  He grabbed the closest container of paper packets, then turned and handed it to a small, elegant woman with curled gray hair and a pearl clutch.  “Here you go, ma’am.”

The woman didn’t take the sugar.  She just stared at Ben for a long moment, her bright blue eyes widening.  Familiar bright blue eyes.  “Benjamin DeWitt?”

Someone else who knew him from his book cover, maybe?  Or…  “Mrs. Kuzniar?” Ben tried, because she was too old to be Brody’s sister but those eyes were a dead giveaway.  He remembered how Brody had described his mother a few times, and it had almost always been complimentary.  (Pretty much I take after my dad, but I kinda wish I was more like my mom instead.  She’s a hell of a lot nicer most of the time, unless you’re late for Sunday dinner.)

“Oh my goodness.”  Her gloved hands flew up to her mouth, and then she was pulling Ben into a hug, heedless of the hot coffee in his hand.  It sloshed over his knuckles, making him wince, but Ben managed to keep it from spilling all over Brody’s mother.  “Benjamin!  Oh my goodness, you’re here!  Honey!”

Ah.  She must have been the one to send the invitation.  Ben was about to reply when she went on, “This is, my goodness, what a shock!  Oh honey, I didn’t even think to let you know, and of course I should have, heavens, you’ve known Brody for forever and I know he would have wanted you to…” Her arms trembled for a moment, and Ben did his best to hug her back one-armed.  She pulled back, dabbing at her eyes, and smiled weakly.  “I know he would have wanted you here.  Oh my goodness, look what I’ve done!”  Her eyes focused on his wet hand and stained cuffs, and she tutted and took the coffee from him, handing it over to the nearest curious onlooker.  She pulled a lacy little handkerchief out of her clutch.

“It’s fine,” Ben assured her, pulling his hand back, “there are plenty of napkins.”

“No no, those won’t do it,” she said, dabbing at the stain.  “Oh, I’m so sorry.  If we were at home I’d get you some club soda and offer you a new shirt, but I had to go and mess your pretty jacket up here.”

“It’s really no problem,” Ben said, but he let her fuss until she was as satisfied as she was going to get.  She let go of his hand long enough to put the handkerchief away, then took it back again immediately.

“I should have gotten in touch with you,” she lamented again, “I’ve been thinking about you on and off ever since Brody showed me his copy of your book.  That was such a nice picture of you in the back, honey.”  It had been particularly nice, a three-quarter profile of him, the gray suit matching his eyes, his sandy brown hair stylishly spiked and a slender goatee accentuating his mouth.  Ben’s face was nothing special, he’d always known that, his nose slightly snubbed and a little too wide where it had been broken when he was twenty-one.  His eyebrows quirked up in the middle and his forehead was already lined from frowning at too many books, but he’d looked…pretty good, in that picture.  For him.  Right now, tired, stained and wearing a five-o-clock shadow that he’d forgotten to shave off in his hurry that morning, he was surprised Brody’s mother had recognized him at all. 

“I guess I still usually remember you as a little boy,” she continued, patting his hand.  “But you came anyway, and I’m so grateful you did.”

“It’s my…” Shit, he couldn’t say pleasure, this was in no way pleasant.  What did you say at times like this?  What was appropriate?  “I couldn’t have done anything else, Mrs. Kuzniar,” Ben finally said, and her eyes welled with tears even as she huffed with exasperation.

“Oh heavens, Benjamin, call me DeeDee, you’re old enough now to use my first name,” she told him.  “You should come and meet the rest of the family, honey.”

Apparently a response wasn’t required, since DeeDee tugged him away from the coffee table and led him effortlessly through the crowd, a tiny Moses parting a solemn Red Sea.

The receiving line was still going strong, but apparently the Kuzniar matriarch didn’t bother herself over things like order.  She smoothly inserted herself in front of an older couple talking to a tall, dark haired woman and said, “Pamela, sweetie, this is Brody’s friend Benjamin DeWitt.”

Pamela was a taller, plumper version of her mother, but she clearly wasn’t in the know.  “Benjamin…” she said slowly as she extended her hand out of habit.  Ben shook it for the same reason.  “Wait, Ben Benjamin?  Letters Ben?  Ben whose penmanship put mine to shame in middle school, Ben?”

That was how she knew him?  Ben smiled weakly.  “That’s me.”

“Wow.”  She was still holding his hand, but not out of affection; it was like she’d forgotten about their grip.  (Pam lost her car at the mall last week.  Like, literally lost it, she completely forgot where she parked it.  A security guard had to drive her around the lot in his go-cart while she pushed her remote door locks.  Mom’s afraid she’s going to accidentally drive off of a cliff someday.)  Needless to say, Ben was pretty sure that Pamela wasn’t the letter writer.  “Ben in the flesh.”

“Wait, Ben?”  A little further down the line a few hovering mourners were gently pushed aside, and just like that, Ben was dumbstruck.  It wasn’t so much that he was seeing Ryan up close, although now that they were only separated by a few feet the interest Ben felt was even stronger, spurred by little things he hadn’t been able to make out before, like the empty piercings in Ryan’s ears and eyebrows.  It was more the look on Ryan’s face that took his breath away, somewhere between awed, excited and slightly, disconcertingly afraid.  There was so much energy in his eyes, so much anticipation in his very posture that Ben felt immediately like folding in on himself, because there was no way he merited that kind of emotion.  Especially not from someone he knew next to nothing about.  Brody had almost never written about Ryan, beyond the bare bones.  (Ryan’s coming home this weekend, Mom’s making me get him tickets to the game… Dad gave my old car to Ryan, he better not wreck it… Mom and Ryan went to the hospital to visit Grandmother today…) The most interesting aside that Brody had ever dropped was:  You and Ryan are the only ones who ever write to me over here.  That had come while Brody had been on his second tour, in Afghanistan.

“Oh my God,” Ryan said faintly.  “You came.”

DeeDee glanced between them curiously.  “Did you invite him, sweetie?  I didn’t know you boys knew each other.”

“We don’t,” Ben said.  He gathered the tatters of his self-confidence around himself, detached his hand from Pamela’s absent grip, and extended it toward Ryan.  “But I’m glad you reached out to me.”

Ryan took Ben’s hand in both of his, not to shake, just to hold.  This was the most tactile family Ben had ever met.  It didn’t feel awkward this time though, not like with Pamela.  “I am too.”

“I don’t want him here.”

That was a new voice, low female and a little hoarse, and they all turned automatically to look at its owner.  A statuesque blonde stood a few feet away, as perfectly coiffed as DeeDee but obviously not as in control of her emotions.  And why should she be, Ben reasoned.  This was Cheryl, Brody’s wife.  Cheryl who had just lost her husband.  Cheryl, from whom the only thing Brody had ever passed on to Ben pertaining to him was Don’t text me after six at night, okay?  Cheryl doesn’t like it when she knows I’m talking to you.

“Cheryl, darling,” DeeDee began placatingly, but Cheryl shook her head.

“No!  I don’t want him here!  I don’t want the children around him.”  “The children” were Molly and Joey, who stood with their mother, one of her hands on each of their shoulders.  “You need to leave,” she said, looking straight at Ben.  Her eyes were red-rimmed and her skin was pale, not naturally pale like Ryan, but sallow and grey.  She looked ill and exhausted.

“No, he can’t go yet,” Ryan protested, still holding onto Ben.  “Cheryl, he was Brody’s best friend.”

“Don’t think I won’t throw a fit right now if that man isn’t out of my sight in the next five seconds, Ryan, because I will,” Cheryl said, implacable.  DeeDee looked like she was about to burst into tears.

“No, it’s fine.  I’ll go.”  It was the right decision, even though Ryan suddenly looked frantic.  That wasn’t how Ben wanted to see him.  “Come and talk with me for a while?” he asked impulsively.

“Of course,” Ryan said with a sigh of relief, stepping up to Ben’s side. 

The entire room had gone silent, taking in the tableau.  Ben had done enough public book readings to know just how loud he had to speak for his voice to carry in a place like this, and he pitched it deliberately low when he said, directly to Cheryl, “I’m very sorry for your loss.”  He nodded to DeeDee and Pamela, then turned and headed towards the stairs.  Ryan followed him closely, a warm presence at his back keeping the tide of murmuring supposition away long enough for them to get out of the basement.

Ben took a deep breath once they were outside, cleansing his lungs.  Ryan watched him with a little smile on his face that gave way to a frown after a second.  “I’m so sorry about that.  I didn’t think Cheryl would go that far.”

“It’s not a problem,” Ben said honestly.  “I didn’t come here to make her upset, I came to pay my respects to Brody.”

Ryan nodded, his eyes brightening with renewed tears.  “He would have wanted you to know.  If he could have—” His beautiful voice stopped working, and Ben filled the sudden silence.

“I also came to find out who invited me here.  I thought it was your mother.”

The smile came back, a little watery this time, but easily.  “Mom might have, if things hadn’t been so hectic, but I didn’t want to take the chance.  I’ve wanted to meet you forever.”

“Why?”  It was the penultimate question, for Ben, encompassing every other query: what did Ryan know about him?  Had he and Brody talked about him?  What did they say?  Why was it so important to Ryan that he be here?

“I’ll tell you everything,” Ryan promised, “but…” he looked around the church parking lot, “can we go somewhere else to do it?”

“Do you have a place in mind?” Ben asked.

Ryan’s smile this time was blinding.  “I have the perfect place in mind.”



Friday, February 8, 2013

Cambion Is Here!

It's here!!!!  Yayyyy!!!!

Yes, I'm excited!  And why not?  The first episode of my serial novel is here!  Cambion Episode 1: Heaven's On Fire  And it costs a whopping...99 cents!  Fifteen thousand words of fun, and this is just the beginning.  What's not to like about a serial, especially one that you can try for such a a teensy investment?  I hope you'll give it a try.  Need some encouragement?  Have an excerpt.

The first thing Devon noticed about the underground lair that he was entering—though 'lair' might have been coming on a bit too strong, given that the place was well lit and decorated like a cross between a Buddhist temple and a seraglio—was the smell. It was too delicate to be called a smell, really; a scent, wafting up the stairs and past the two burly Asian men who were waiting to escort Devon into the belly of the beast. The delicate curls of incense were flavored with spikenard, a derivative of the valerian family and supposedly the stuff that drove Judas to rebel after Mary Magdalene used the costly ointment to anoint Jesus' feet, and...

Devon could feel his overactive memory trying to dive down irrelevant avenues of information in his head, and he firmly refocused himself on the men walking toward him.

"Arms up," one of the men said, his English barely scratched by a Mandarin edge. He wore a cheap, shapeless polyester suit and a bolo tie, with some sort of rough-cut brown stone for a pendant. Not exactly contemporary fashion choices, but it looked like the standard uniform for henchmen, if the other guy was anything to judge by. Devon just smiled and raised his arms, letting the man frisk him and taking note of the Taser gun at his hip as well as the piece he was trying to hide, a small-caliber pistol in the small of his back. The way he walked suggested there was something strapped down at ankle height, too, but Devon didn't plan on getting up close and personal enough to make sure.

The man's hands ran briskly down his legs, and Devon gave a tiny, experimental shimmy of his hips. The man finished his check and stepped a foot back, as square-jawed and implacable as ever. No reaction. Interesting. "This way," he grunted. The other man never spoke, but he followed behind them, sandwiching Devon between them as they headed deeper into Tian.

Tian was a Chinese word for heaven, and this place, hidden under ten feet of rock and sand in the middle of the Mojave Desert, a hundred miles from Las Vegas, seemed like an odd place to set up such a lofty den of iniquity. It was hard to get to this ghost town in the center of nowhere. The only visible things that marked the serpent's head were a crumbling adobe motel and a shuttered gas station. Few people knew about Tian, and even fewer were allowed entrance. No matter how exclusive the entertainment on offer, the inconvenience should have been enough to put people off when the glitz and glamour of Vegas was so readily available. In this case, though, it looked like the first rule of fight club was working in Tian's favor, because this serpent's belly was filled to the brim with people.

Devon was led into a large central room that looked like it had been plated with marble: floors, ceiling, walls, all of them were white shot through with a soft jade green that soothed the eye as much as it captivated. There were silk carpets here and there on the floor, recessed enclosures behind carved wooden dividers for the fortunate few who'd found a place to sit, and slender Chinese women and men weaving between the guests bearing trays of everything from drinks to drugs. Most of the clientele seemed to be male, men of many different nationalities, if the cut of their suits was anything to judge by, all drinking and smoking and trying to restrain their glances towards the center of the room, where a tall crimson candle in a gold candelabrum was slowly burning down. No one touched it, no one even bumped into it, despite the crowd. Ah-ha. A timepiece, then. Symbolizing that something everyone was waiting for was going to happen when it burned down to a nub.

"Mr. Klein." A young woman in a form-fitting silver and blue dress approached and bowed formally. "Welcome to Tian."

"Thank you, miss." Devon smiled charmingly; he couldn't smile any other way. "Its reputation has preceded it."

"I trust you will be well pleased with what our establishment has on offer. May I offer you some comfort as you wait for tonight's entertainment? A bottle of our finest champagne, perhaps, or something stronger, to calm the nerves?" She fluttered her eyelashes enticingly, and it was all Devon could do not to laugh. "Or perhaps even the company of myself, to help occupy your time until the show begins?"

He shouldn't do it. He knew he shouldn't, but Devon couldn't help himself. Being on the receiving end of a seduction was pure challenge for him. He had to prove he could outdo her, even though he was supposed to be keeping a low profile. But then, no one had ever said Devon was good at denying himself.

Devon captured her gaze with his and extended his hand. She gave hers over, almost unconsciously, and he bent over it slowly, in a gesture that appeared courtly from a distance but was smoldering up close. As he bowed, Devon pressed lightly against her body with his power.

Her scent changed instantly, growing stronger as her temperature rose, sweat and musk sliding more freely from her pores and between her legs. She gasped, then clutched her free hand to her neck. Too late, Devon realized that she was wearing the same brown stone as the guards, this time as a choker. It must have acted as some sort of warning, because an instant later she drew back, and the guards immediately reached for their Tasers.

Shit. This was not how the op was supposed to go. "Maria," Devon muttered around his clenched teeth, "they can tell what I am."

"Can you get out of there?" Maria asked through the com, her voice so faint that if his hearing hadn't been naturally augmented, Devon wouldn't have been able to hear her.

"Not sure yet." He straightened up and smiled again. "Actually, I just remembered that I left something rather important in my car. I'll be back in a minute."

"You're not going anywhere," Nameless Guard Number One grunted, reaching for Devon's arm.
Devon reacted instantly, grabbing the man's wrist and jerking it aside as he spun toward him and neatly kicked him just above his ear. Guard Number One staggered back, giving Devon time to deal with Number Two, who had gotten his Taser free and aimed all of its fifty thousand volts at Devon.

So, just a taste, but I hope it appeals!  This project is my baby, currently, with five more episodes to come.  It's going to be epic, probably my longest novel to date (except for the one, the one I don't speak of, the one I keep under my bed...my secret shame) and it'll be a fun ride.