Loren & Eliot Character Vignette (Interview)

The coffee shop is warm and inviting, one of those little boutique places with comfortable chairs and even a fireplace. White lights are strung throughout, and the aroma of pumpkin spice washes over me. I settle in a leather wingback chair not too far from the crackling fire, clutching a peppermint mocha, to wait for my guests. I’m a little early, but that’s okay; this way I can observe them together in the split second before they notice me.

A few chocolatey sips later, and the door swings open to admit two men, obviously the ones I’m waiting for. One of them is very tall, his navy-blue peacoat doing nothing to disguise his muscular frame. He has dark hair, and a lean scruffy jaw I find very appealing. His companion is a few inches shorter, blond, with bright green eyes that scan the room and fall on me. They immediately light up with a delightful enthusiasm, and he approaches me with his hand out. I stand to take it.

“Mrs. Hansen?” he asks, his voice deep and pleasant. I squeeze his hand warmly and smile.

“Yes, but please call me Melanie, or even Mel. All my friends do.” That makes his eyes crinkle even more, and he pulls me into an impulsive hug. I’m startled, but since I’m a hugger too, I return it.

“You can never have too many friends, right?” he says, and before I can reply, goes on, “You said you’d be wearing a really colorful scarf, and that’s the first thing I noticed. It’s beautiful. The colors are woven together so nicely, and I love the way it goes with your red hair. Who would have thought purple would—“

“El.” The taller man touches him on the shoulder, breaking into his speech. “You didn’t even tell her your name.” His voice is gently teasing, and the blond man’s eyes widen before he shoots me a grin so beautiful it hurts.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” he says cheerfully. “I’m Eliot Devlin, and this is my partner, Loren Smith.”

“Ma’am,” Loren murmurs, shaking my hand as well.

“Mel,” I correct him, and then sit back down in my chair, watching as they both remove their coats and drape them with care over the back of the loveseat opposite me.

Eliot perches on the cushions for a moment and then jumps back up. “You want some coffee, honey?” he asks Loren. “I’ll get myself an herbal tea.” Without waiting for an answer he heads off to the counter.

Loren watches him go, then stretches his hands out toward the fire, quirking his lips at me. “I’m always surprised by how cold it gets in Phoenix this time of year. Hard to believe a few short months ago we were burning in hell.”

“I know, right?” I reply, returning his rueful look. “And we’ll complain about the cold like we complain about the heat. Arizonans are never happy.”

We share another grin before a loud shout of laughter captures our attention. I glance toward Eliot, who’s talking with the barista in an overly animated tone, waving his hands. She looks a little overwhelmed, but seems to be going along with the conversation gamely.

“He’s been a tad elevated this past month or so,” Loren remarks, watching me watching Eliot, as if looking for signs of judgment. “But he’s okay.”

I give him a reassuring smile. “It’s nothing I haven’t seen before. My cousin was bipolar.”

Loren’s face shows surprise. “Oh. I didn’t know. When you said you wanted to write our story, I honestly wondered why you’d take on such a challenge. It’s not an easy story to tell.”

I shrug, unable to meet his eyes. “My cousin—she used to say how she’d never find anyone to love her. She had a hard time seeing that she was loved. So much. She was brilliant, accomplished, beautiful…”

“Was?” Loren asked, his voice soft. I suddenly find myself blinking back tears.

“She’s—she’s at peace now.” My voice is a whisper. “But I miss her. I guess in writing your story I’m trying to show her that no matter what she thought, she was worthy of love. Everyone is, no matter their challenges. She never believed it.”

Loren reaches out to touch my knee. “I’m sorry.”

I take another determined sip of my mocha, sitting up straighter. “But tonight isn’t about that, it’s about finally meeting you and Eliot in person. I’ve waited so long for this.”

All of a sudden Eliot’s voice gets even louder, and a few profanities drift to our ears. Loren doesn’t get up, but he calls out, “El!” When Eliot looks at him, Loren pinches the bridge of his nose as if staving off a sneeze.

Eliot nods, taking the drinks from the clearly relieved barista before heading back over to Loren and me.

Loren sips the coffee Eliot hands him, then grimaces. “I think I’ll add a little sweetener,” he murmurs, getting up and walking over to the creamer table.

Eliot puts his tea down untouched and leans toward me. “So Mel,” he exclaims, “how’s it hanging?”

“Fine,” I say with a smile. “How are you?”

“Great!” He launches into a detailed explanation of the decorating he and Loren have done on their home so far, and it sounds enchanting. I tell him so.

“It is really fucking beautiful, Mel, just fucking awesome!”

I’m married to a sailor so I’m not fazed in the least by the F-bombs, but there are a couple of families with small children around us who shoot us dirty looks. Loren catches Eliot’s eye as he returns to the couch and pinches the bridge of his nose again, and I realize it’s some kind of signal between them.

I ask Eliot about it, and he gives me a little smile. “Busted. If I’m getting too loud or profane, Loren will do that to remind me to tone it down. A lot of times when I’m hypomanic, like I am now, I don’t even realize I’m doing it.”

“I never want him to feel as if I’m reprimanding him,” Loren explains, putting his hand on Eliot’s leg, which is jiggling wildly up and down. “So we decided on a way for me to alert him to what’s going on, and once he’s aware of it, he can usually correct it.”

I nod, and Loren continues, “We want to lead the most normal lives possible. Hiding out at home isn’t an option for us, and we’ve developed our own ways of coping when things get…interesting.”

“Mentally interesting, that’s me,” Eliot chimes in, and Loren bends down to give him a gentle kiss.

“The most interesting guy I know.”

They nuzzle their noses together for a moment, the affection between them palpable. I sip my mocha and gaze into the fire to give them some privacy, until Loren sits back again, his hand still resting on Eliot’s leg. Eliot reaches down and twines their fingers together.

“All we can do is take things one day at a time,” Loren says quietly, his eyes haunted.

“This past year has been a little…rough.” Eliot squeezes Loren’s hand, his thumb caressing the back of it.

I wince, knowing the word ‘rough’ is the understatement of the century. I can’t deny they’ve been through hell.

Our conversation turns to future plans, then Loren and Eliot’s upcoming trip to Hawaii as guests of a friend of theirs.

Eliot grins at me. “I can’t wait!” he exclaims, his leg jiggling faster. “As kids, Loren and I used to dream about going, and it’s finally going to happen.”

“I know you’ll love it.” We talk briefly about my experiences living there, and with each passing moment I dare to relax a little more. I’ve been so worried about them…

Eliot seems to be having trouble reigning in his pressured speech again, so I stand up to leave, not wanting to keep them.

“Is that all, Mel?” Eliot looks up at me, his beautiful green eyes enquiring.

“It is,” I tell him.

“You can ask us anything, you know.”

“I know. But I don’t need to. Seeing you together like this is enough. That’s all I really wanted anyway.”

They both stand for hugs and kisses on the cheek, and then they walk me out. I watch as they head off down the street arm in arm, blond head and dark head bent close together.

At the end of the block, Loren roars with laughter at something Eliot says, and he wraps him up in a hug so tight he lifts Eliot clear off his feet.

“I love you, Eliot Devlin,” echoes back to me on the crisp night air.

I think about all they’ve been through already, about how the future stretches before them in all its uncertainty, and I know Loren’s right…

One day at a time.

Signs of Life Cover Reveal!

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IT NEVER HURTS TO ASK. That is my new mantra. IT NEVER HURTS TO ASK!
I discovered Cory Zwierzynski when I saw gifs of his Andrew Christian “Kiss” video on Tumblr…

Cory Z 1

Cory Z 2

(Do yourself a favor and watch the whole video, so HOT! http://www.andrewchristian.com/index.php/kiss.html )

Once I tracked down who the sexy man with the smirk was, I searched out everything I could find about him, and learned that he’s an Andrew Christian exclusive model. I watched all of his Andrew Christian videos and drooled over all of his pics. I followed him on every social media known to man.

(Follow him on Instagram, it’s worth it! https://instagram.com/coryz07/ )

When I began writing Signs of Life, the physical description of my character, Kai, started to become Cory in my head. The eyes, the hair, the tattoo, the attitude…Cory was Kai. So when it came time for the cover art, I couldn’t stop thinking, what if? What if I could get Cory for my cover?

Nah, that will never happen. Andrew Christian will laugh you out of town.

I told myself that over and over, talking myself out of it, until I brought up the idea to my friend Kenya one day. She told me, “What do you have to lose? The worst that could happen is they would say ‘no’ or totally ignore you. So what? At least you’d know.”

So I screwed up my courage, emailed Drew LaQuang, Cory’s booking person, and asked if I could license a picture of Cory for the cover of my book, explaining that I was a huge fan of his. Within a few hours I had my answer: “Sure!”

Cue intense fangirling and celebration! (My friend Monica heard me screaming all the way from Brazil and messaged me to ask what was going on, LOL).

I contacted Paul Richmond, the art director at Dreamspinner, and asked about the steps I’d need to follow for licensing a picture. He was extremely helpful, sent over the legal forms I had to have, and made sure I was aware of the size requirements, pixels, etc., for cover art.

Unfortunately all the pictures I found on the Andrew Christian website were too low-res to be used, so I emailed Drew and asked if they had higher-resolution pics I could look at. He immediately and graciously opened their photo archives to me, and I was able to browse at my leisure.

When I found one that I liked and that my cover artist, Natasha Snow, could work with, I filled out the licensing form and emailed it to Drew, who had it back to me in a few hours. I forwarded it to Paul and boom, I had my cover model. I had my actual face cast for Kai on my cover!

Cory Z 3

(Club Kai)

Cory Z 4

(Teacher Kai)

The whole experience has been amazing. I can’t emphasize enough how awesome the Andrew Christian organization is. Nobody laughed at me, nobody said ‘No,’ nobody said ‘Figure it out.’ Every time I emailed with a question or a problem (the low-res pics), Drew wrote me back in a timely fashion and helped me resolve it.

For a huge, multimillion dollar company to do that for some strange woman who emailed them out of the blue, that says a lot about their customer service and their appreciation of their fans. Andrew Christian and Drew made everything easy and painless, and now I have a cover that’s personal, and beautiful, and means a lot to me.
So from now on my mantra is, and I encourage everyone to adopt it because you just never know…IT NEVER HURTS TO ASK!

(All photos used in this post used by permission from Andrew Christian, Inc.)

Cafe and Memories – An Everything Changes short story

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My first book, Everything Changes, was published in March 2015 by Dreamspinner Press. One of my main characters, Carey Everett, is a war veteran and amputee. He overcame several early challenges – a father who was never in his life, the death of his mom after a long illness, and a succession of foster homes. I didn’t detail his backstory much in the book, but I did allude to one instance where a kind stranger put himself out there to help Carey. Mr. Carter is the owner of a small café, and he gave Carey a warm, safe place to wait for school to open each morning. He helped give Carey one of the best starts into adulthood he could possibly get, by enabling him to finish high school.

I couldn’t stop thinking about Mr. Carter and Carey, so I wrote this short story for them. For anyone who hasn’t read Everything Changes yet and might like to, rest assured this won’t spoil anything for you, other than Carey has an eventual HEA with the man of his dreams.

I hope you enjoy reading, and if you see me at GRL in October, please come up and say hello!
*Contains some war violence*

Café & Memories – An Everything Changes Story

It was a January morning like any other, dark and bitterly cold at 5:30 a.m. George Carter stood indecisively at the doorway of his warm little café, wincing as he noticed how the wind was whipping the American flag hanging from the eaves wildly back and forth. He considered not going out there, considered just staying inside, warm and snug, maybe having another cup of hot tea before it was time to open for the morning breakfast rush.

George sighed in resignation before pulling a knit cap down tightly over his ears and winding a thick scarf around his neck. He’d changed the café’s menu offerings after the holidays, adding a few more varieties of soups and cakes, and he knew how the ladies over at the local high school loved their cake. This was the school’s first week back after winter break, and he really should drop these updated menus off for them.

George picked up the neat stack of colorful menus, making sure they were clipped tightly together before pushing out through the door into the frigid morning. He hunched down as far as he could into his scarf, his eyes watering as he headed directly into the wind. It was a short two blocks over to the school, and as he walked, George grumbled to himself about winter in the desert. Even after 25 years, he still had to explain to disbelieving relatives in more northern states that yes, it does get fucking cold during an Arizona winter.

“Y’all get snow then, Georgie?”
“No, Uncle Seth, it doesn’t snow here, but –“
“Then shut your mouth, it ain’t cold.”

George smiled, thinking about his uncle, who had passed away the previous summer. It was a conversation they’d had every year around the holidays, Seth ribbing him for complaining about the “cold” when he himself had just been out shoveling three feet of snow away from his front door. The weather banter was their little ritual, and George missed his uncle fiercely in that moment.

As he neared the school entrance, he heard a deep wracking cough come from somewhere off to the left, and he turned to stare disbelievingly at the figure huddled in the shelter of a nearby doorway. The boy was hunched into a ball, his arms wrapped around his upraised knees, his face buried against them. Another cough shook him, and George stuck the menus in the school’s mail slot before marching determinedly over. This time he wouldn’t take no for an answer.

“Boy, you’re comin’ back to the café with me. Right now.”

The bowed head lifted, and bright blue eyes rimmed with red looked miserably into George’s. His nose was running, and he coughed again before nodding. George waited for him to unfold and push to his feet, watching as he slung his heavy backpack over his shoulders.

“It’s not too far,” George said. “You’ll be warm before you know it.”

He led the way, not speaking, the sound of the kid sniffling and coughing behind him breaking his heart. He’d first seen the boy a little over a month ago when he’d been dropping off the café’s holiday menus for the school ladies, and George wondered why the young man would be sitting in that doorway at 5:30 in the fucking morning when school didn’t start until 7:45. Maybe an athlete waiting for 6 a.m. practice? George hadn’t thought much of it at the time, until he’d been passing by the school about a week later to take some menus to a nearby insurance office. The boy was there in the same doorway, drawing in a notebook. It was even earlier than before, about 4:45, and there was no way any sports practice started that early, not in this tiny border town.

On impulse George approached him and asked if he’d like to wait at the café for school to open, and the kid politely but firmly declined. After that, whenever George saw him, he made the same invitation and was always rebuffed. George was curious as to what his story was, who his parents were and why they’d drop him off at school a full three hours before the damn place opened to let him huddle in the dark and cold alone.

Now the boy’s misery had made the decision for him, and George was fiercely glad he decided to deliver the menus that morning.

George finally pushed through the front door of the café, the soothing warmth and the smell of fresh coffee and a hot griddle wafting over him. His three servers were moving busily about the dining room, replenishing napkin dispensers, making sure ketchup and Tabasco bottles were full. The short-order cooks were chattering in the kitchen, the clanging of pots and pans a familiar and welcome cacophony. Overlaying all of this was the engaging hip-hop that George allowed his staff to play at full volume during morning prep, and every now and then someone shouted out a lyric or busted a dance move. It was a friendly and happy place, and George was inordinately proud of it.

The boy hovered wide-eyed in the doorway, seemingly reluctant to come any farther inside, and George waved his arm at him.

“C’mon in, son, and get warm. Go sit at that booth over there, and I’ll bring you some hot tea with lemon. Good for a sore throat and cough.”

The kid hesitated, and George moved closer to him. “Go sit, boy,” he urged gently. A bout of coughing almost had the young man bent double. As soon as it was over, he made his way cautiously to the booth in the very back and collapsed down onto the seat, folding his arms on the table and dropping his head onto them, the picture of weariness and misery.

George made him a large mug of strong tea with a generous helping of sugar, and squeezed several slices of lemon into it. He placed it in front of the boy then sat down in the booth across from him.

“What’s your name, son?”

The kid lifted his head from his folded arms, wrapping long-fingered hands around the hot mug and taking a sip before croaking out, “Carey. Carey Everett.”

“Nice to meet you, Carey. I’m Mr. Carter.”

Carey nodded. “Thank you, sir, for inviting me inside.”

“You’re welcome. Now sit here and warm up, and I’ll bring you a little something to eat.”

Carey looked alarmed. “I – I don’t have any money –“ he stammered, subsiding when George gave him a stern look.
“Didn’t ask for no money now, did I?”

George smiled to himself when he saw a look of stubborn pride fill the boy’s vivid blue eyes. He was a tough one.

“We’ll work something out, kid,” he said, staving off Carey’s protest. “Ain’t be much use to me right now as sick as you are.”

Over the next hour George was busy with the café opening, seating customers and then ringing them up at the end, making sure things were running smoothly. He found time to dish Carey up a big bowl of steaming oatmeal, setting it down in front of him along with a little tin of milk and a ramekin of brown sugar. George watched in satisfaction as he ate most of it, then rested with his head on his folded arms until around 7:30, when he stood up and pulled his coat on, getting ready to leave.

“Thank you again, Mr. Carter,” Carey said hoarsely, the sound of his voice raw and painful.

George walked him to the door. “Come again tomorrow, Carey. I’m usually here by 4 a.m. There’s no need to wait in the cold when you’re so sick.”

Carey’s lips tightened and George prepared himself for a protest, but then Carey said gruffly, “Okay, but just until I’m better.”

“Deal.”

George watched him go, hunched miserably against the wind as he made his way back to school.

The next morning there was a tentative knock on the door at 4:45, and George opened it to let Carey in, noticing that his color was better and he didn’t sound quite as hoarse when he murmured a greeting.
After his tea and oatmeal, Carey sat quietly in the booth reading, sometimes doodling in a little notebook. The morning prep was in full swing, the little café bright and busy, filled with music and the sound of young people talking and laughing.

Just before the 6:00 a.m. opening, George sat across from Carey and said solemnly, “I want to offer you a job. You can start when you’re feeling better.”

Carey looked steadily back at him, his blue eyes unwavering. “I don’t want to accept charity, Mr. Carter,” he said quietly. “You don’t need me to work here.”

George snorted. “Look at these fools!” He waved his arm toward the doorway to the kitchen where two of the short-order cooks were dancing to the music, bumping and grinding to the accompanying “whoop-whoops” of the young servers.

Carey smiled faintly then looked down at his hands.

“Carey,” George said gently. “If it makes you uncomfortable, we won’t talk about a salary. How about in exchange for a hot breakfast and a warm place to wait, you sweep the front walk for me every morning, clean the windows, do the stuff they don’t get to in the midst of all their foolishness?”

Despite the harsh-sounding words, George’s tone was fond. Ever since his wife had died unexpectedly several years ago, the café and the vibrant young people who worked there had given his life meaning. He loved all of it.

Carey didn’t say anything for several more minutes, just spun his empty tea mug between his palms. Finally he looked up at George and nodded. George stood up and patted him on the shoulder.

“Good,” he said simply, and went back to work.

****

“C’mon Carey, break it down!” Andrè, the head cook, shouted, his hips swiveling as he danced, trying to draw Carey in. George watched from the doorway to his office, smiling as he watched the horseplay. It was Valentine’s Day morning, and the staff was feeling festive, chattering about sweethearts and upcoming dates. Andrè was planning to make heart-shaped pancakes for the breakfast crowd, and each table sported a red and pink carnation in a little crystal vase.

In the month and half since Carey had started working there, George was pleased with how he had come out of his shell. He was still naturally reserved, and quiet, but he had a wicked sense of humor, and when one of his rare smiles broke across his face, it was like the sun coming out. He was a breathtakingly beautiful kid, a true Black Irish, and he reminded George of someone…someone long gone but never far from his thoughts.

During the course of their early-morning talks, before the staff arrived and chaos would reign, George found out that Carey was a foster kid, having lost his mom, his only family, a few years ago after a prolonged illness. He’d bounced around to a few homes, and since he was now almost 17, it was harder to find a home to take him. His caseworker had had to move Carey from his hometown of Tucson to Douglas, 120 miles away and on the Arizona/Mexico border, in order to place him.

In Douglas he lived with a rural family, and Carey told George that his foster dad was an over-the-road trucker who was gone 3 weeks out of every month. The mom worked as an aide at a nursing home, and had to be at work herself every morning at 5 a.m. There was limited bus service to the high school from Carey’s district, but there was a fee, and the family was unwilling to pay it. As a result, Carey was dropped off at school every morning at 4:30 a.m. to wait.

George was appalled, but Carey just shrugged and said, “It is what it is. At least I can come here now.”
A loud series of whoops drew George’s attention, and he laughed out loud when he saw Carey dancing with Maria, one of the servers, petite and cute. Carey was grinning, and suddenly a series of memories slammed into George like a Mack truck. The boy was so much like –

George turned and went into his small office. He sat down at his desk, spinning around in his chair and rummaging in the small credenza set against the wall. In the bottom drawer was an old shoebox, and he put it carefully on the desk and lifted the lid. A slightly musty smell wafted from the box, which was full of old photos: some color, some black-and-white.  He picked one out of the box and held it in slightly shaky hands, staring at the grainy image.

“Mr. Carter? Are you okay?”

George jolted out of his memories, looking up to see Carey standing hesitantly in the doorway to the office. He put the photo down and wiped his eyes hastily.

“Yeah,” he replied gruffly. “Just a walk down memory lane.”

Carey advanced farther into the room and sat down on the small chair in front of the desk. “You want to talk about it?”

His tone was solemn, his face wise beyond his years. George smiled, fondness for Carey surging through him, along with a desire to tell him the story that had impacted George’s life immeasurably.

“It’s not an easy story to hear, son,” he said. “But I think I’d like to tell you about it.”

Carey nodded.

“Come by after school. I’ll call your foster mom and tell her I’ll drive you home.”

After Carey started working there, George had contacted Carey’s foster mom to make sure she knew all about the early-morning arrangement. The woman sounded harried and distracted, but nice enough. She thanked George profusely, and asked him to call her if there were ever any problems.

Carey nodded again. “I’ll be here.” Then he was gone.

George took another few minutes to himself, closing the shoebox and putting it carefully away.
The rest of the day flew by. At 2:00 p.m. the café closed, and by 3:00 the clean-up and inventory had been done. The staff left in a noisy rush, eager to start their own Valentine’s Day plans. Carey came in shortly before 3:00 and pitched in to help with closing, smiling and avoiding teasing questions about “hot dates” and “getting some.”

George shook his head. Young people.

In the quiet aftermath George fixed himself a cup of coffee, then gathered up his shoebox and sat at one of the larger booths. Carey sat down across from him, and George reached inside the box and pulled several photos out, fanning them across the table. He watched as Carey looked at them, taking in the grainy images of men in sweat-stained fatigues, sometimes clutching M-16s, interspersed with jungle scenes and Huey helicopters.

“Vietnam?” he guessed, running his finger across one photo that showed smoking, grinning men cleaning their guns around a rickety table, Jeeps and jungle in the background.

“Yes.” George shook his head. “I can’t believe it’s been 36 years, a lifetime.” He fished around in the box and handed Carey another picture, this time of himself. “I was barely 21 years old, been in-country for almost a year, had just been put in charge of my first squad.”

May 1970 – Vietnam/Cambodian border

“I ain’t gonna take no orders from a goddamned nig –“

The face was red, spittle flecking the corner of his mouth as the man spat the words at George. George stood impassively, cocking his head as a voice behind him cut through the invective.

“That’s enough, Biggs.” The voice was deep, with a Southern drawl. Without looking, George knew the voice belonged to Sgt. Justin Lowry, one of the Echo Company snipers.

Biggs sneered. “Can’t tell me a good Southern boy like you expects me to take my orders from this fucking darky.”

Lowry got close enough so that he was looming over the shorter, wider Biggs. “I said that’s enough, Corporal.” His voice had lost the drawl and was now laced with steel. “I take my orders from men I respect, period. Don’t matter none what the color of his fuckin’ skin is. You were there on Hill 875, same as me, and you know this man deserves your goddamn respect. And you’ll give it to him, or answer to me.”

Biggs glared for another minute, then turned and stalked away, outrage in every line of his body.

George quietly blew out the breath he didn’t know he’d been holding, turning to face Lowry when he said, drawl firmly back in place, “Sorry about that, Carter.”

George shrugged. “Ain’t nothin’ I’m not used to. But thanks just the same.”

Lowry smiled, then offered George a smoke, lighting it for him before wandering off, his endorsement of George as squad leader firmly in place. Even though George hated whenever other people fought his battles for him, he had to admit that the endorsement of a popular, well-respected man such as Sgt. Lowry would make things a little easier.

And in a place like this, George would take all the easy he could get.

****

“Damn, I wonder if it’s true about all the gooks hiding out down there.” Biggs spat out the open door of the Chinook helicopter as they swooped low over the impenetrable jungle. “Heard there could be up to 63,000 of those motherfuckers hiding in that mess.”

George shook his head at the racial slur but didn’t waste his breath reprimanding him, knowing it wouldn’t do any good.

“So much for Cambodia being ‘neutral,’ huh?” Biggs sneered. “Letting the Cong hide their shit out in there, makin’ it easier to hump it across the border into ‘Nam and kill good white boys with it.” He worked up another glob of spit and horked it out the open door, the wind whipping it away.

George grit his teeth, clutching his M-16, not wanting to let this racist asshole distract him from his situational awareness. Just a few short weeks before, George had seen a Chinook shot out of the sky with a surface-to-air missile, the burning bodies of the crew raining down in a horrifying storm into the river below.
He scanned the jungle closely, unable to see anything on the ground through the triple canopy of vegetation. It was true, that the Cambodians were letting the Viet Cong store weapons and supplies in huge amounts in these jungles, and that’s what George and his Marine battalion, among others, were tasked with doing: Finding and destroying all such caches they could find.

The Americans had surged into Cambodia just a few days before in a surprise incursion, meeting little to no resistance. A crude firebase was set up a few klicks across the border, and now George and his men were flying out to help get it more firmly established before starting to run active “search-and-destroy” missions.

As the Chinook swept in for landing, George gripped his gun with suddenly sweaty palms, looking down in disbelief. The “firebase” was little more than a desolate clearing surrounded by a berm, with some sagging strands of concertina wire strung along it. A most pitiful defense, especially when compared to the backdrop of the sinister jungle ringing it on all sides.

“Holy fuck, what is this bullshit?” Biggs exclaimed. “We gonna get wasted here. This is where we gonna die, boys.”

It was probably the first statement out of his mouth that George had ever agreed with.

When the helicopter landed, they all jumped down, George half-expecting withering machine gun fire to rip them to shreds the minute their boots touched dirt. He could almost feel the enemy’s eyes on them, watching. He took a deep breath and squared his shoulders, pulling every ounce of calm and self-discipline he possessed around him like a cloak. Time to lead by example.

“Okay, Marines,” George called out. “Double-time! We need to get better cover established before nightfall.”
He assigned groups to start digging foxholes, others to fill sandbags in order to build up the berm. That first night was sleepless as they huddled together, weapons at the ready. George wanted to snort in disgust when Biggs crowded into his foxhole with him, muttering, “If those assholes overrun us tonight, I wanna be next to you.”

The color of my skin don’t matter so much now that you’re so worried about your own, does it? George thought, casting Biggs a look of disdain that the other man carefully chose to ignore.

At first light everyone crept out of their foxholes, and the day followed pretty much the same pattern as the previous one. Chinooks flew in and out, ferrying men and supplies, and by nightfall of that second day, the firebase had taken on a crude shape. Army Corps of Engineers were frantically hacking through the jungle from the Vietnam border toward them, building a road in order to bring in backhoes, Jeeps and tanks.

“Carter!”

The shout was almost lost in the sound of a helicopter ascending into the sky. George turned around, shading his eyes against the dust stirred up by the rotor wash, seeing Lowry striding toward him, his arm slung casually over the shoulders of a tall dark-haired man.

“Lo, you’re a sight for sore eyes,” George exclaimed. “That bird just drop you off?”

“Hell, yeah! This is Bobby Nevarez, my spotter. Nev, this is the best squad leader in this whole goddamn shithole, George Carter.”

After shaking hands, the three of them lit up smokes.

“So what’s the plan for this clusterfuck?” Bobby mumbled around his cigarette, his eyes scanning the jungle.
“Try not to get dead,” George said drily. “We’ve been here two days, haven’t seen hide nor hair of the VC, but I can feel them watching us from that fucking jungle.” He shuddered.

Lowry glanced around at the barebones firebase. “Yeah, this whole thing is – not groovy.”

“Scheduled to go out on a ground recon in about three days, start beating the bush, see if we can find a storage cache,” George remarked. “You two on my team?”

“Fuck yeah, we are,” Lowry exclaimed, throwing his arm around Bobby’s shoulders again. “Wouldn’t miss it.” He winked at Carter, and then the two men wandered away.

Another night passed uneventfully, and as the sun started to rise on the third day, a loud boom was heard along the eastern perimeter of the base. George woke up from where he was curled up uncomfortably in the foxhole, kicking Biggs hard in the shin to get him moving.

“What was that?” George called out to one of the men currently standing overwatch, a young private hunkered down in a nest of sandbags nearby, his gun resting on the top. He peered through some binoculars at the source of the explosion.

“One of the claymores deployed, sir!” he called out. “Probably a bird or animal –“

Before he could complete that thought, a burst of machine gun fire came from the edge of the concertina wire, cutting down an American who had just emerged from the shitter.

“Contact east!”

The shouts rose from all around the base, and men struggled up from sleep to ply their weapons. Suddenly, before anyone could blink, it seemed, the firebase was in a fight for its life. Wave after wave of enemy poured from the jungle, running toward the base perimeter.

The Marines, though, were all prepared, their weapons primed and plenty of ammo at hand. The first surge of VC was annihilated immediately, shredded by the powerful American guns.

“Don’t let them breach!” George screamed, crawling on his belly to the closest machine gun nest. He propped his gun on the bags, sighted, and fired steadily, watching the enemy fall.

Grenades were lobbed by both sides, smoke drifting up and obscuring the sun. Screams as a Viet Cong fighter breached the perimeter, only to be cut down. Then another, and another. Soon there was hand to hand combat, bayonets flashing.

George reloaded, the smell of gunpowder, dust and smoke filling his nose and lungs, Biggs’ fatalistic words echoing in his brain: This is where we’re gonna die, boys.

It could have been minutes, or hours, or days, but the waves of enemy pouring from the jungle slowed to a trickle, then stopped completely. Random cracks of gunfire filled the air as the men shot at shadows, finally tapering away to silence.

A lone monkey screeched nearby, soon joined by others, and before long the air was filled with the normal sounds of the jungle instead of the fierce and frantic battle that had just taken place.

George stood up cautiously, men all over the firebase doing the same, and the assessment and cleanup began.
The tally – 1 American dead, 7 wounded. All in all it was a miracle they hadn’t been breached and overrun. Viet Cong dead littered the perimeter of the base, and heavy blood trails led back into the jungle where some of the bodies had been dragged away.

In spite of the hot and humid air, George shivered. The enemy moved like ghosts: silent, effective, deadly. It was sheer luck, or a miracle, the Marines had been able to defeat them. The only thing that saved them was the preparation they’d done, their state of readiness and the sheer firepower they possessed. Out in the jungle, on their turf, it would be a much different story.

None of George’s squad had been killed, although he soon found out that Bobby Nevarez had been a little too close to a grenade when it landed. He’d been blown backward, suffering a few minor shrapnel wounds and a concussion.

George went looking for Justin Lowry not long after the firefight, asking around and being told that he was checking on Nev in the medical tent. Not sure if the injured man would be sleeping, George was quiet as he lifted the tent flap and peered inside. It looked like Nevarez was indeed sleeping, and George could just make out the dark shape of Lowry kneeling next to the cot.

As George’s eyes adjusted to the dimness, he could see Justin smooth a lock of hair off of Bobby’s forehead before trailing his fingers down his cheek. He brushed his thumb back and forth over Bobby’s lips, quiet murmurs reaching George’s ears. George stared, not comprehending at first, and then he backed quietly away from the tent, waiting a few seconds before knocking softly on the pole.

He pushed inside and saw that Justin was now on his feet next to the cot, turning to leave.

“Cap’n wants to see you, Lo,” George whispered. Lowry nodded, casting a look at the sleeping man over his shoulder before following George out of the tent.

“How is he?” George asked as they walked across the bustling firebase in the driving rain, each ignoring the mud that squelched up almost to the top of their boots. It wasn’t anything they weren’t used to by now in this tropical climate.

“He’s gonna be okay,” Justin said, his voice hoarse. “When that grenade exploded and I saw him just lying there –“ he broke off, and George looked sideways at him. He still wasn’t quite sure what he’d seen in that tent, but whatever it was certainly wasn’t any of his goddamn business. Snipers and their spotters were known to be as close as brothers, and George didn’t want to assume anything by what he’d just witnessed.

“We’re going ground reconning at first light, see if we can pinpoint these assholes’ location, follow any blood trails or broken vegetation while they’re fresh,” George said. “Cap’n wants to read you in, says Dhu will be your spotter until Nev is back on his feet in a day or so.”

Lowry shrugged, and George fell silent. The rest of the day was spent on mission prep. At dawn the next morning, after a ‘breakfast’ of cold C-rations, George and the five other members of his team swung their 70-pound rucksacks over their shoulders, clutched their M-16s tightly and headed out into the triple-canopy jungle.

Hacking through the vegetation was arduous, and the heat so oppressive the squad was forced to take a break every hour in order to rest and rehydrate. Everyone was dealing with bamboo cuts on their hands that stung like a bitch with their sweat, and they each took turns picking huge black leeches off of the back of the others’ exposed necks.

They didn’t really sleep, but caught catnaps in shifts. The constant rain wore them down, and the deafening buzz of tropical insects and the whine of mosquitos further eroded morale.

“Can’t believe I’d ever fuckin’ say this,” Biggs muttered, “but I wish I was back in goddamned Vietnam. Better than this shit.”

George, once again, had to agree.

As the squad continued to hack their way through the bamboo, practicing noise discipline and stealth as much as they could, the sense of foreboding that was making the hair on the back of George’s neck stand up grew stronger. The men were walking in a loose line formation, George bringing up the rear, and suddenly the grunt on point lifted his closed fist in the air to signal a halt. Without a word, Lowry and Dhu melted off into the jungle to do a “sneak and peek,” trying to head off any potential ambush. The other four waited until George gave the order to cautiously move forward.

They spread out a little farther apart than before, trying to dogleg and zigzag as much as possible to make themselves less of a target. George’s skin crawled, certain he could feel the enemy’s eyes on him once again. They were out there, always waiting –

Suddenly a cloud of insects swarmed by right above their heads, and George instinctively looked up, only to see a wire strung up high, along with a –

“Mine!” he screamed, but it was too late. The claymore exploded at head level, cutting down the two men on point with deadly ball-bearings. Immediately there was a barrage of withering automatic weapons fire from the unseen enemy, and Biggs was hit, his body flying back into George’s, knocking him to the putrid jungle floor and pinning him.

Biggs had been shot in the throat and blood poured down from his severed artery onto George’s face and neck. Choking and sputtering, George tried to push the dead weight off, rolling and twisting, managing only to hopelessly pin his legs. Booted feet appeared next his head and he looked up, expecting to see an enemy bayonet flashing down to end his life. Instead it was Lowry, his face speckled with blood.

He knelt down next to George and tugged at Biggs’ twitching body, trying to pull him off. “Dhu panicked when the mine went off, exposed himself,” he said, gasping with effort. “Shot.”

Suddenly Lowry hit the ground next to George and pulled Biggs’ body half on top of himself, too, hastily smearing some of his blood on his face and hands.

“What the –“ George began, and Lowry hissed, “Shut the fuck up. Play dead, damn you.”

In the next instant, VC soldiers slid silently out from the dense jungle and approached them. George made himself as limp as possible, certain that his thundering heart could be heard clearly over the sound of insects and chattering of birds.

The enemy soldiers were muttering as they stood over them. Biggs’ body twitched without warning, still in death throes, and suddenly the sickening sound of bayonets being plunged into human flesh reached George’s ears. The body on top of him rocked with the thrusts, and George waited to feel cold steel slicing into him. It didn’t happen, although he was treated to several kicks about the legs and head, and Lowry’s arm, draped across George’s chest, jolted as a ring was ripped violently from his finger.

The men backed off, and George expected them to leave, but instead they lit some smokes and stood there, chattering in their unintelligible language.

George and Lowry played dead for what seemed an eternity, although it was only a couple of hours. Any minute he expected the enemy to come and inspect them more closely, but they never did. Both of George’s legs were asleep from the weight of Biggs’ body across them, and Lowry’s head was mashed against his shoulder. He could feel his shallow breaths against his neck.

Finally the Cong moved off back from where they’d come from, and Lowry hissed, “We’ve gotta stay still for at least another half hour, in case they’re watching.”

George and Lowry lay there in the stinking mud, not moving, covered with thick, clotting blood and the contents of Biggs’ evacuated bowels. George prayed to himself like he’d never prayed before, and he could hear Lowry doing the same, the words little more than puffs of air coming from his mouth. He was almost sure he heard the name Bobby a time or two, but George was past caring about anything except his own fear and misery.
Finally Lowry shifted cautiously, and slowly and carefully pushed himself to a sitting position, looking around. He stood up and staggered a little, catching himself and managing to drag Biggs’ body off of George’s legs.

“I can’t feel my legs, Lo,” George hissed, and Lowry hauled him up anyway, supporting George when he sagged helplessly. They started to move off as quickly and quietly as they dared, and George realized with horror that both of them were weaponless, the enemy having taken everything they had. It was a couple of days’ hike back to the firebase, and George knew they wouldn’t make it, not without supplies and guns.

When they’d gone about a mile, Lowry half-dragging, half-pushing George along, he suddenly stopped and helped George sit down against a thick stalk of bamboo.

“I’m gonna double-back and get Dhu’s rifle and rucksack. Don’t think the hostiles found it, we were well off the trail when he got wasted by that stray bullet.”

George nodded, and Lowry slipped silently away. He was gone for a long time, and George started to drift, his mind caught in a whirlpool of ever-worsening nightmares. Of Lowry never coming back. Of being eaten by fire ants. Of being tortured and killed by VC. Of starving to death. Tears leaked from his swollen, burning eyes and ran down his cheeks unchecked. He’d never see his wife again, never have the chance to live the life they’d just begun together when he’d been drafted.

He was on the verge of falling completely apart from stress and shock when Lowry was suddenly there again, kneeling in the mud next to him, Dhu’s rucksack over his shoulders and rifle clutched in a tight grip.
George looked at him, Lowry’s black hair plastered to his head with rain and mud, helmet long gone. His face was haggard, filthy, his bright blue eyes standing out even more against the muck. He was the most beautiful sight George had ever seen.

“Gonna get us out of this, Carter,” Lowry muttered. “Gonna tell the brass about what we saw here, won’t let those assholes get away with this.” He hauled George to his feet and they set out.

For the next two days they trudged through the jungle, retracing their steps back to base. The journey was a blur to George, dehydration, shock and hunger taking their toll. Insects attacked him constantly because of the blood and shit on his uniform and skin, eating him alive. His feet were a mass of blisters. Lowry never once slept, constantly on alert, bolstering George and keeping him going when all George wanted to do was fall to the jungle floor and let himself die.

Finally they reached the firebase, were whisked off to medical. George’s wounds and blisters were dressed, and he was given IV fluids to rehydrate. He drifted in and out of consciousness for several hours, at last falling into a healing sleep. When he woke up late the next afternoon, he felt weak but mostly functional. He managed to eat a little, and take a tepid shower, before going looking for Lowry, intending to thank him for saving his life.

Darkness had fallen, the jungle beyond the firebase perimeter black and menacing. The floodlights they’d strung up around the camp didn’t do much to penetrate the almost tangible blackness of the Cambodian night. George poked his head in a few hooches, asking around. A couple of guys said they’d heard Lowry was looking for Nevarez.

George was tired, still a little weak, and about to give up trying to find Lowry; he’d just take care of it the next morning. He was heading toward his hooch when he saw Lowry striding across the far end of the base. George didn’t think, just hurried to catch up. When he finally rounded one of the structures, he saw Lowry’s silhouette just as another dark shape emerged from the gloom. George stopped in his tracks, watching as the two shadows merged into one.

As his eyes adjusted a little more to the darkness, he could see that Lowry had Nevarez enfolded in his arms. They weren’t merely hugging; they were wrapped tightly around each other, so tightly that George couldn’t tell where Lowry left off and Nevarez began. Lowry had his hand cupped around the back of Nev’s head, his lips buried in his hair.

George watched as Nev lifted his face from Lowry’s neck, and they kissed softly, over and over. He turned and slipped silently back the way he’d come, ashamed of himself for intruding on a private moment, but a little in awe, too. The raw feeling emanating from the two men had been powerful, and George didn’t feel disgust, or curiosity, or any other prurient emotion. Just that sense of awe, that two people had managed to find a little beauty, a little comfort, in the midst of all the ugliness that currently surrounded them.

He didn’t say anything to anyone, and he went to bed.

****

A sneeze from Carey broke the spell of George’s story, and George came back to the present with a start.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Carter,” Carey apologized before sneezing again. “Go on.”

George smiled a little sadly. “Not much more to tell, son. It’s just that your manner, something about your eyes, reminds me of Justin Lowry, the man who saved my life. He’s been on my mind a lot lately, and I can still see him so clearly, even over 30 years later.”

He pulled another picture from the box and handed it to Carey. He watched as Carey perused the faded color photo, a photo that showed George’s entire squad before that fateful day. He wondered if the boy’s sharp eyes would pick up on what George himself had seen: Lowry and Nev, leaning against a low wall side by side, hands bracing themselves, the pinky finger of one hand overlapping the other’s in a subtle caress. If you weren’t looking for it, you wouldn’t even notice it.

Carey did notice, because he looked up and asked quietly, “So they were gay, then?”

George shrugged. “Son, I don’t know what they were, other than two people who cared about each other a great deal and managed to carve out a little happiness for themselves in the midst of hell. Other people might not have understood it, but considering my own relationship, I probably understood it better than anyone.”

“What do you mean?”

George didn’t reply, just opened his desk drawer and took out another picture, this one framed and professional. He handed it to Carey, watching his eyes widen as he took in the photo of George and his wife Sarah. In his mind’s eye George could see her, hair as golden red as an autumn leaf, those bright and mischievous green eyes, freckles across her pert nose.

Oh, how he’d loved her.

“Yes, Carey, I married a white woman. Which to you young people today might not be a big deal, but back in the late ‘60s, it was still so rare as to be almost unheard of. Sarah and I faced our share of bigotry and outright hatred, prejudice and judgment leveled against two people who simply wanted to love one other. A black man and a white woman, or two men…love is love, son.”

“Wow,” Carey whispered, “that couldn’t have been easy. We’re studying the civil rights movement in school. I know how hard it was for African-Americans back then.”

George felt the shadows of those early days of his marriage creep up on him.

“We had a few rocks thrown through the windows of our house, slurs painted on our front door. One night I asked Sarah why she’d married me, why she’d taken on a life with me so full of uncertainties. You know what she said? I’ll never forget it, son. She said, ‘When I met you, Georgie, I didn’t see the drawbacks. All I saw were the possibilities, the glorious possibilities.’”

George felt his eyes mist up at the memory, and he wiped the back of his hand over them. “Thank the sweet Lord above she was open to the possibilities. Because we were married for 39 years and those were the best years of my life.”

Carey smiled, and handed George back the photo. George let his fingertips caress Sarah’s beloved face.
“Be open to the possibilities of life, son, whatever they might be. Lowry and Nev were, Sarah and I were. And we all found a little bit of beauty in the darkness.”

They both fell silent after that, not much more to say, and soon George drove Carey home.

Over the next year, George delighted in seeing Carey nearly every day, watching him mature, grow taller and more handsome. Carey even made a few friends, one day bringing a girlfriend around and shyly introducing her to George. High school graduation approached, and George threw Carey a small party one afternoon after the café had closed, complete with cake and apple juice toasts.

Over the summer Carey’s visits tapered off to a trickle, and on the first day of school, George waited out on the sidewalk for him at 4:45 a.m. Of course Carey wouldn’t come, he wasn’t in school anymore, but George still waited. He waited that whole week, but Carey never returned. George missed him fiercely, but he knew in his heart that Carey was grateful to him, cared about him, that maybe he just couldn’t face the pain of good-bye.

And life went on.

Eight years later

George pushed away from his desk and stretched, his back cracking as he twisted side to side. At almost 64, he wasn’t sure how much longer he’d have the energy to put 60 hours a week into the café. He loved the place, but maybe it was time to delegate to a manager, enjoy what remained of his twilight years with a little relaxation, maybe some travel.

It was 15 minutes before closing, and George headed out to the main dining room to ring up the last few customers before sending them on their way with cheerful good-byes. He was digging in his pocket for the keys to lock up when suddenly the door opened again and a tall, black-haired man entered the café, followed by another equally tall man with thick brownish-blond hair. The black-haired man seemed familiar, and George looked him over carefully, noticing that underneath the right leg of some loose cargo shorts, the metal of a prosthetic leg was showing. He scanned back up to the man’s face and was startled by bright blue eyes brimming with uncertainty, and a cautious hope.

“Mr. Carter?” The voice was deep, a man’s voice, but George would know it anywhere.

“Carey,” he breathed, coming around the counter and opening his arms. Carey fell into them and George enfolded him close.

“I’m sorry that I never said good-bye, or thank you,” Carey whispered in George’s ear, emotion choking his voice. “Thank you, Mr. Carter, for everything you did for me.”

George hugged him tighter, tears burning in his own eyes. Finally they pulled apart, and George looked down at Carey’s prosthetic leg.

“Marines,” Carey said. “Lost it in Afghanistan.”

“Oorah,” George whispered, and they hugged again. Finally Carey stepped back and then drew the other man forward, pride shining in his eyes. George looked questioningly at them.

“Mr. Carter, I’d like to introduce you to Jase DeSantis. My husband.”

George’s mouth fell open, and when he finally snapped it closed, he managed to croak, “Well, my boy. Congratulations.” He stuck out his hand and shook Jase’s firmly, pleased by how strong his grip was, how his eyes met George’s directly.

“Glad to meet you, sir. I’ve heard a lot about you,” Jase said.

“Son, I – I never knew –” George began, and Carey gave a faint smile, his vivid blue eyes glowing with warmth and love as he said simply, “I was open to the possibilities.”

The End

Living in Hawaii is a Dream…Or Is It?

When people find out we were once stationed in Hawaii, I get the usual envious reaction: “Wow, lucky you. What a hardship!”

Well, I compare the experience with reading a romance novel: the fantasy and the reality are miles apart. In romance, the fantasy is that everyone is gorgeous and the sex is always good. Reality is morning breath or those days when you really just can’t stand each other.

When moving to Hawaii, well, first you’ve got to get there. It’s categorized by the military as an “arduous move,” and that ain’t no lie. Usually when movers come do your pack-out, it’s a matter of keeping an eye on whether they record the serial numbers of all your expensive electronics correctly on the inventory sheet, or – more importantly – making sure they don’t box up a garbage can with, um, garbage in it. (Which happened to us. I unpacked a box upon arrival only to be knocked over by the smell of a full trash can, including a dirty diaper or two, neatly wrapped in packing paper and labeled. True story.)

Also, when you move overseas, the packers have to take everything apart, and I mean everything: Bicycles, patio furniture, that POS computer desk that you put together out of a box and immediately threw away the instructions to. The movers do this so they can pack the shipping containers as tightly as possible, leaving not one inch of space. Packing the containers is an art form, like putting a puzzle together. Oh, the rails from a bed will fit here just right, but the headboard fits better in another container, so have fun figuring out which rails go with which headboard later!

Moving 2

Moving

(Also, it’s super awesome to find a random bag of nuts and bolts rattling around in a box with no idea what the hell they go to.)

Then there’s the issue of pets. It used to be that you had such a wonderful choice of what to do with your dog or cat when moving to Hawaii: Leave them behind for years or subject them to a 6-month quarantine upon arrival. The reasoning for the quarantine is sound: Hawaii has many indigenous species, and they want to keep it that way. They don’t have rabies on the Islands, and any plants or animals entering have to be regulated, I get that. But the thought of leaving our beloved pets, a dog and a cat, behind was unconscionable.

Luckily, the Department of Agriculture has developed a program called Direct Airport Release, which means if you jump through 950986355 hoops before you get to Hawaii, you can pick up your animals direct from the DoA kiosk at the airport. But wow, those hoops are killer! You have to time everything down to within 7 days of arrival, and when you have to start the process a full six months before, that makes things very difficult. Rabies testing, health certificates, DoA forms, fees, still more forms, even down to the way you label their airplane carrier…if you do even one little thing wrong, your pets could be denied release and subjected to quarantine hell.

But finally the big day arrived! Everything was packed and hauled away, the car was on a freighter, the pets were ready to go, and my kids and I boarded our flight to Honolulu. Well, we started to. The flight was randomly canceled, as they are, and we waited in line for 3 hours to rebook. My kids were hungry and bored, pets were howling down in baggage claim, and I was a wreck. Plus I was alone, my husband having flown to Guam earlier to meet his ship already at sea.

The next morning we tried again, and this time boarding was successful…minus the kids’ DVD players that were accidentally left behind at security. Yikes. Six hours on a plane with no entertainment. I’m lucky I survived.

We finally arrived in Honolulu, and went straight to a hotel for three weeks since that’s how long it would take our household goods and car to arrive. I’ve blocked out that dark time, two kids, two pets and me in a hotel room. With. No. Car. My husband was in and out, working 14 to 16 hour days. The Navy waterfront had recently been rocked with a Spice (synthetic marijuana) scandal, and my husband’s ship was hit the worst: at least 24 of his sailors were charged with using and/or distributing the stuff. He’d inherited a shit storm from his predecessor, and he just didn’t have time for us. (That’s a reality of military life – if the Navy wanted you to have a family, there would have been one in your seabag.)

One glorious day we received the keys to our new house, and it was very nice:

Hawaii 6

Household goods followed soon after, and hallelujah, the car.

For the first several weeks we played tourist: Beach, luaus, snorkeling, more beach. It was like a super long awesome vacation. We tried new and different foods, experienced things like diving with sharks, boat rides, kayaking…beach and still more beach!

Boys Hawaii 5

Boys Hawaii 2

Boys Hawaii 6

Boys Hawaii 4

Hawaii 5

Finally the novelty wore off, and reality set in. Hawaii is a very expensive place. A gallon of milk was $7, a 12-pack of soda $10. Gas was well over $5 a gallon. A lot of companies won’t ship to Hawaii, and if they do, the shipping costs are prohibitive and things take forever to arrive, sometimes weeks.

Honolulu traffic is the second worst in the nation, but it’s the worst I’ve ever personally experienced. When I finally got a job, it took over an hour to travel the 8 miles to work during morning rush hour. Parking anywhere is a nightmare. The crowds can be horrifying, and there’s really no “off-season” in Hawaii, just crowded and slightly less crowded.

And if you’ve ever heard about “island fever,” it really is a thing: It’s a feeling of disconnect from the mainland. Hawaii is the most remote island chain in the world, 2,300 miles from the nearest land mass. You can drive around Oahu in around 3 hours, start to finish. It starts to feel claustrophic. You. Can’t. Go. Anywhere. You long for something other than to be surrounded by ocean. The time difference means you’re 6 hours behind the East Coast, and I lost touch with a lot of people while living there.

It sounds like maybe I hated it there, but oh, Hawaii is absolutely beautiful, with a rich history and wonderful culture. I loved the friendly people, the spirit of Aloha, the diversity. The schools get a bad rap, but our little elementary school was wonderful. It was held in classrooms open to the fresh air, and the kids were allowed to kick off their shoes and go barefoot all day long. It was the first time both of my boys had ever had perfect attendance. It’s hard to believe, but they were never sick the whole time we lived there.

Best of all, every day after school, if we wanted, we got to do this:

Boys Hawaii 3

The weather was sublime, 85 degrees year-round, no joke.  Oh, every now and then it got into the 70s, maybe the high 60s, but that was rare.  It rained, but not very often.  In fact, sometimes I just wished for a cold, rainy day so that I didn’t feel so guilty about staying inside and reading!  I don’t think my boys were ever in the house except to sleep.  We were always outside, always doing something.

We eventually learned which beaches the locals went to, which restaurants had the best kama’aina (local) discounts. We took advantage of the military amenities and perks, and enjoyed as much as we could in the 14 months we were there. Just like anyplace else, just like romance versus reality, there are drawbacks to living there, but the good definitely outweighs the bad. I have to say that I miss it, and wish we could have lived there longer. I’ll be forever grateful to the Navy for giving us this experience that we will never forget!

Hawaii

Hawaii 4

What Happens When Friendship Catches Fire?

EverythingChanges_FBbanner_DSPMy debut novel with Dreamspinner Press, Everything Changes, features two very damaged heroes. It’s the story of Jase and Carey, close friends who have served alongside each other in a hostile foreign country, fighting a relentless and brutal enemy. Together they survive, and even though Carey has more visible injuries, Jase is wounded just as badly in his psyche and heart.

Carey Everett is an amputee, having lost his right leg due to an insurgent explosion while serving as a Marine in Afghanistan. After his injury he endured several surgeries and underwent painful physical therapy, spending months in a wheelchair. Eventually he was fitted for and learned to walk again on a prosthetic leg.

Jase DeSantis was the combat medic for Carey’s unit, and during the course of his military service he saw and experienced many horrors of war, including seeing his best friend grievously injured right in front of him. Jase was able to save Carey’s life, but suffered years of guilt for not being able to save his leg. Added to that was witnessing the brutal deaths of two honorable, brave men during a vicious battle with insurgents.

Carey was scarred on the outside, Jase on the inside. Jase is fighting an ongoing battle with PTSD – a battle that’s become more debilitating with each passing year. Carey was able to find emotional healing through helping other wounded veterans, work that gave his life meaning beyond pain and disfigurement.

What would happen if these intense, life-changing experiences and the feelings that resulted turned friendship into love? What if one of them had never in a million years imagined himself falling in love with another man? Living with a disability, coping with PTSD and friendship catching fire are the main themes of Everything Changes.

As an Air Force brat and Navy wife, I’ve been steeped in military culture almost my entire life. This background gave me a lot of material to work with, and when I heard this line from a song that I love, “When it’s just me and you, who knows what we could do, if we can just make it through the toughest part of the day,” the story for Everything Changes was born…friends who indeed make it through the toughest part of the day and find love on the other side.

A little bit more about me: I’ve been a romance reader almost my entire adult life, a voracious reader of m/f historical romance. Discovering m/m romance was like coming home, the readers and authors I met at GRL in 2013 and through online interaction feeling like “my people” from day one. I had never dreamed of writing anything myself until something happened off-page in one of my most beloved m/m book series, something I couldn’t let go of and had to see happen. So I wrote the story myself, and I posted it on Tumblr.

I won’t say that piece of fanfic was overwhelmingly received or changed my life, but I discovered an outlet for my love of romance and for certain book characters who had become precious to me. When NaNoWriMo rolled around, I thought, “Why not,” and on November 1, 2013, I opened a Word file and started what eventually became Everything Changes.

Working with Dreamspinner Press has been a wonderful, positive experience, and I can’t speak highly enough of everyone I’ve been fortunate enough to meet, authors and staff alike. I’m looking forward to GRL 2015, where I will be appearing as a supporting author. If you are there, please come find me. I’d love a “hi” and a hug!

Brazil, Friendship…and Hot Men

I wonder when we talk about Dream Vacations how many people would say their dream vacation would be Hawaii. Well, I was lucky enough to live on Oahu for a year and a half, and yes, it was awesome. Some of the most beautiful weather and scenery in the world, and the people were friendly, the history and customs fascinating. I’d highly recommend it! Anyone who would like Hawaii travel tips and suggestions, shoot me a note! I’m happy to help!

My own personal Dream Vacation? I have two, and it was so hard to pick which one I’d like to write about. And what it finally boiled down to is friendship. One of my best friends lives in Brazil, and any country that would produce such a wonderful, funny and caring person is the country I’d most like to visit.

When I first met Monica, we were in a fandom together on Tumblr. Tumblr, of course, is the land of gay porn and hot men, and it seems like every single hot male model I fell in love with is from Brazil. I mean, just look at them!

Bernardo Patriota Twins
So I would joke with Monica, “There must be so many hot men on every corner, how do you even walk down the street without running into one?”

“Of course I bump into them all the time,” she’d reply, “and they follow me home and beat down my door every single day. It’s so exhausting.”

When people think of Brazil, they think of beautiful models, thong bikinis, Rio, and Carnaval. I know I did. After meeting and getting to know Monica, there’s so much more to discover, and that’s the Brazil I want to see. I want to meet the friendly people like her, the people who welcome tourists from other countries with open arms, who don’t care if you don’t speak one word of Portuguese; they are just happy to help. I want to see the beautiful beaches that only the locals know about, the clubs and restaurants that are off the beaten path.

I would love to go to Brazil because I have a native, a friend, to show me her favorite places, her favorite restaurants, her favorite things to do. To me, that’s the absolute best way to experience an unfamiliar place, to get the most flavor out of an experience like travel to an exotic, foreign country. I’m so lucky to have a friend like Monica in my life, and next summer she will show me her country, and I feel sure I will love it as much as I love her.

And of course, any hot male models we bump into on the street will just be a bonus.