Lots of free stuff

The weather is gray and cold here and it feels like a perfect time to hunker down with a good book. So I have a couple that I'm giving away.

Today and tomorrow (Nov 15 and 16), my Hanukkah story, Sacred Hearts, is free on Amazon just to start getting us all in the holiday spirit.

But wait, that's not all..... I'm part of a great giveaway on Instafreebie November 16-26. I'm giving away Learning from Isaac and there are books from lots of great gay romance writers like Charli CotyMissy Welsh and the incomparable Jordan Castillo Price. Check out the giveaway and collect a stack of books to while away these winter hours.

 

 

Life's a gamble. And David's partner has lost so much at the blackjack tables that David is forced to close their restaurant, the hippest little place in Portland. He sells everything and moves back home. But at thirty-five, he's not eager to sleep alone in his childhood bed. He needs to start over, maybe with someone like the elusive man who keeps showing up in his dreams. An old friend offers David a job catering a movie set in Puerto Vallarta. He stuffs his few remaining possessions in a backpack and takes the next flight down. 

All he has left are his dreams. And what dreams they are—tall, dark, and luscious. As Mexico prepares for Christmas, David lights Hanukkah candles, celebrating the return of the sun and wishing for true love. On the first night of Hanukkah, David meets a tall, dark stranger who rocks his world in a secluded moonlit cove. Is this the mystery man of his dreams—the answer to David's prayers or just another illusion? To find out, he’ll need to gamble everything, even the dream of true love.

Reading and writing with Pride

I'm so excited to be heading to Seattle for Read (and Write) with Pride (the conference formerly known as GRNW). In addition to a reading and the book fair, I get to participate in a panel titled : Writing Queer Romance in Turbulent Times: Escapism, Political Act, or Both? with CJane Elliott, Rick Read and Karelia Stetz-Waters  It should be a great conversation.

I'll be there on Friday 11/3 for Write with Pride and on Saturday 11/4 for Read with Pride. If you're in the Seattle area, I'd love to see you. Even if you're not....

Here's the event page. Check it out.

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An invitation to my newsletter - and a flash

On the first Friday of every month, I send out a newsletter that I call Dev's News Flash which consists of a little bit of news and a new piece of flash fiction. If you're interested in getting an original story delivered to your inbox every month, here's a form to sign up. 

And here's this month's flash. I hope you enjoy it. It's called Russian Mark

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“How did you meet Russian Mark?” The kid couldn’t have been more than 20. I envied the ease with which he sprawled in his chair.

“It’s a long story.” I pushed the plate of muffins toward him. God knew someone ought to be able to eat them. At my age I couldn’t afford the extra calories.

“I’ve got all afternoon.” The kid stuffed half a muffin into his mouth.

I took a sip of coffee. “It all started because my friend Cassie thought I should get a dog.”

I remembered it was raining that April morning when Cassie showed up at my house. She’d thrust a fancy coffee at me and pushed her way in.

“Mark, we have to talk.” She eyed the scattering of fast food detritus that surrounded my couch.

“I’m still healing,” I’d pleaded as I made a half-hearted effort to clear away the clutter. Half-hearted had been the best I could do since my latest boyfriend moved out.

“He wasn’t worth this much misery.” Cassie scooped up a potato chip bag and several takeout food containers and tossed them in the kitchen garbage.

I trailed after her, holding a single empty candy bar wrapper. “You’re right. But they’ve all been awful. I’m done with men. I just have to come to terms with the fact that I’m doomed to be alone.”

She put her hands on her hips and stared at me. “What are you talking about? You’re not even thirty. You’re a healthy, reasonably attractive man. You just haven’t met the right guy.”

“All I ever meet are losers and alcoholics. I can’t take it anymore,” I whined as I sank onto a barstool at the kitchen counter.

Cassie leaned toward me, across the kitchen counter. “If the only places you go to find men are dive bars, how the fuck are you going to meet anything else?”

“You don’t understand.” I put my head in my hands. “It’s easy for you. You can meet women all over. That’s what women do, they congregate. Men aren’t like that. Single men have to go to bars to look for other single, or not so single, men. Where else am I supposed to meet guys?”

Cassie smiled. “You need a dog.”

“A dog?” I pulled my head up and stared at her. Even for Cassie, this was a stretch.

“Walking around with a dog is a great way to meet people.”

“You want me to get a dog so I can meet men. That’s no reason to get a pet. It’s a big responsibility.”

 “You own your own house and work from home. There’s no reason you can’t have a dog.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “And you’re always talking about how much you miss the dog you grew up with.”

I had to give her that one. “He was a great dog.”

Cassie gestured to my depression nest on the couch. “Look, maybe a dog won’t help you meet the right man. But what’s the worst that could happen? Even if you don’t meet the right guy, you’ll have a dog. And from where I’m standing, it looks like you could use some companionship. I say we head over to the shelter right now and find you some unconditional love.”

“Unconditional love.” I thought of my childhood dog and how happy he’d been every time I entered the room. “Yeah. I guess I could use some of that.”

“So that’s where you met Russian Mark?” The kid jolted me out of my story.

I shook my head. “I told you, it’s a very long story.”

Gigi was a dirty white bichon chihuahua mix, all fluff, shake and attitude. It was love at first sight. It was clear to me that her first two years had been even worse than my twenty-eight. Taking care of her pulled me right out of my depression. Soon, we’d established a routine –we walked around the block after breakfast, lunch and dinner, she slept on a chair by my desk as I worked, I scratched her belly as we watched TV, and she slept on my feet every night.

I wasn’t as lonely as I had been, but I was just as isolated as before.

When Gigi came to me, she was afraid of a lot of things. Over our first few months together, she started to relax around the regular terrors of a knock at the door, the telephone ringing, dust bunnies skittering out from in front of a broom. But she just couldn’t get comfortable around other dogs. When we ran into the dachshund that lived two doors down, Gigi would cower behind me, so we started skirting around that house on our walks.

“Maybe she needs more exposure, not less.” Cassie told me when she came over to dinner one night. “Deliberately keeping her away from other dogs can’t be helping. How about taking her to puppy classes?”

I looked down at Gigi, who was curled in my lap. “She’d be terrified.”

Cassie frowned in frustration. “When I suggested you get a dog, I didn’t mean you should use it as just one more excuse to never leave the house.”

“We leave the house. We go to the grocery store and the post office, not to mention all our walks around the block.”

“Just try one class. Gigi will thank you for it.”

The kid sat up in his chair. “And Russian Mark was at that class?”

I shook my head. “We never went. I just couldn’t subject her to the stress of a class. But one day, I read about a new dog park being built just down the street from my house.”

It had been the announcement that the new dog park would have a separate space for small dogs, that’s what caught my attention. I thought that if all the dogs were her size, she might get used to them. And I had to admit Cassie had a point. We needed to get out more.

It had been a warm July morning when Gigi and I drove to the dog park. There was only one other car in the parking lot when I pulled in. I eyed the section for small dogs. It was empty, just like I’d hoped it would be. I wanted to give Gigi time to get used to the space, smell the other dogs and relax before we had to confront anyone else. I carried her through the double gates and set her down on the wet grass to explore.

In the distance, in the large dog section, I saw a man tossing a ball with what looked like a Great Dane. The dog and the man looked like they matched – both tall and thin. The Dane bounded after the ball with great loping strides, but it was the man who captured my attention.

The kid grinned. “Russian Mark?”

I nodded. “Russian Mark. Only back then he was just Mark, newly arrived from Russia.”

“And you met that day at the park?”

I shook my head. “Not that day. It took a long time. Gigi and I went to the park the same time every day and watched them from a distance.”

The truth was, it had become something of an obsession as I tried to time our trips to the park to coincide with his. Some days I had barely noticed him because I was busy holding Gigi and letting her get acquainted with another dog from the safety of my arms. I’d look up, and the man with the Great Dane would be gone. I hated the sinking feeling of those days.

Then, one cool October morning we’d arrived just as the man and his dog were getting out of their car.

“Morning.” I think I blushed as I said it. I held my breath waiting for him to answer.

“Good morning.” His accent was thick. And sexy.

Up close he was even more handsome that he’d looked from a distance. Tall, dark, with a shy smile that grabbed me deep in my guts. Neither of us moved toward the entrance to the dog park. I held Gigi close but for some reason she wasn’t shaking, even though the Great Dane was only a few feet away.

I cleared my throat. “I’ve seen you here before. I think we come around the same time.”

“Yes. Every day.” He held out his hand. “I am Mark. It is nice to meet you.”

“Oh.” I blinked at him. “I’m Mark, too.” Our hands touched. It was a long time before either of us let go.

I smiled at the young man sprawled across a chair in our living room. “And that is when I became Mark G and he became Russian Mark. And the rest, as you said, is history.”

“What about the dogs? Was Gigi okay with the Dane?”

I laughed. “They were best friends from the start. It turned out Gigi was only afraid of other small dogs. She loved the big ones. We never went into the small dog section again.”

The sound of the front door opening was followed by the thunder of three dogs galloping through the hallway and into the living room.

Mark appeared in the doorway, looking just as handsome at 65 as he had at 30. “Have you finished your interview?” His accent had softened over the years, but it still got to me. “I hope you told him that after all these years you still want to marry me, because now it is time to get dressed.”

“Good.” The kid sprang up. “I wanted to get a couple pictures of the two of you in your tuxes. But first, do you have any relationship advice for the younger generation?”

Mark met my gaze and smiled. “I’m sure Mark G told you the most important thing. You should always have a dog.”

 

The End

Making Home - coming out 10/3/2017

I'm so excited to announce that my newest book comes out tomorrow! It's a novella, the first in a new series set among the faculty and staff at Bay Valley U. Making Home is the story of two men with very different histories who have to figure out how to make a future together. This beautiful cover was created by  Fiona Jayde.

In his real life, Manu Contrares makes a decent living as a videographer in New York. But when his mother goes into hospice, he heads home to Bay Valley to help take care of her and ends up back at his first job on the janitorial staff of the local college. It feels like a long step down for a proud Hispanic man.

Chris Hall loves teaching but hates research. That’s becoming a big problem because his third-year faculty review is coming up and if he doesn’t make something happen soon, he’ll be out. He’s spending his nights working in the lab on a Hail Mary attempt to save his job.

When the two men meet, it’s explosive. And complicated. Chris is lily-white and culturally tone-deaf and Manu’s only in town for a short stay. It’s a recipe for heartbreak. Still, the pull between them is too strong for either to ignore. Can they overcome their different backgrounds and somehow surmount the geographical problems, or is this a fling that will leave them both more exhausted and lonely than before?

Have a happy, healthy New Year

In honor of Rosh Hashanah,  the Jewish New Year starting on Sept 21, Fields of Gold will be free on Amazon 9/22-25. Fields of Gold is the second in the Tarnished Souls series (you can get the first one, Learning From Isaac for free by signing up for my newsletter on Instafreebie). Tarnished Souls is a series of Jewish holiday romances. (yeah, I know, who knew that was a thing?). Learning from Isaac is the Passover story and Fields of Gold centers around the Rosh Hashanah themes of forgiveness and redemption.

Here's the blurb:

Politics has always been a dirty business. Avi knows all about that—after all, not only has he been studying historical compromises and intrigues, he has been sleeping with his very own corrupt politician. The affair used to be about love, but lately Avi’s going through the motions, waiting for the day when he completes his dissertation and finds a job far, far away.

Waiting for that day to come, he has put his life on hold and gets jolted awake when he meets Pete, a tall blond farmer who charms Avi with his dazzling smile and his straightforward life. Except Avi knows that even an organic farmer can have an agenda and if something is too good to be true, it is time to get suspicious. Is this just another nightmare or can Avi leave his doubts behind, learn to trust and find a life in the sun?

Check it out for free from Sept 21 to Sept 25. My New Years gift to all of you. L'Shana Tova.

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Helping out

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I'm a diver and a swimmer and being underwater is one of my very favorite things. I live in a very part of the world - this county has 10,000 lakes. (Most are tiny, but still....) I love the taste of our well water and the greenness of our vegetation. Here, a heavy rain in the summer just means I don't need to water the garden for a few days. All in all, I love water.

Spending time on (or in) one of the lake up here it's easy to forget that water can be dangerous and even deadly. Then I turn on the news. It seems like the world is swamped in watery disasters lately. So I thought I'd dedicate this week's blog to reprinting information on how to help out victims of the flooding in India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Texas.

The New York times has a nice article on donating to Harvey victims, listing national and local charities including the LGBT Disaster Relief Fund. Consumer Reports also has a list, and some tips for avoiding frauds

The flooding in South East Asia this monsoon season  has been horrific, over a thousand people have been killed. The Independent has some information on the monsoon flooding and some donation suggestions, including Oxfam. The Red Cross/Red Crescent is working on all fronts, a sort of one stop donation point.

It's hard to take in the devastation water has been wreaking this summer. And it's difficult to know how to help. I'll be donating a little cash to help out. It seems like the least I can do. 

 

Cooler times

It's still August and in most of the northern hemisphere, that means summer is still going full blast. Here in Northern Wisconsin, it's cooling down. Which puts me in the mood for bulky sweaters and boots and quiet. 

Our summer is short, but frantic. Folks visit, we swim and bike and walk and spend every possible moment outside. I love it. But I also love when the end of August rolls around and everything quiets down. For one thing, I can get back to my keyboard. It's hard to carve out the time to work when the house is full and the lake calls.

Fall must be coming because I started a new book yesterday. It's the second in the Bay City University series (the first - Making Home - is coming out sometime this fall). This one is a later in life love story and you know how much I love those. 

Every season has it's blessings. I'll miss the warm weather, but this is a sweet time, too. 

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Interesting times

My inbox is filled with a wide variety of repudiations of Nazism and calls for everyone to renounce white nationalism and commentary on the need to resist fascism and, while I have witnessed the steps it took to get us here, I still can't believe it. 

I lived in the western US during the 1980's and 1990's and watched the rise and fall of groups of crazy, violent bigots. What a relief when the Southern Poverty Law Center took down the Aryan Nations and we could all breathe a little more easily.

Or not.

Because here we are 20 years later and I'm getting emails from people like my boss telling me they don't think it's okay to be a Nazi. You'd think that would go without saying. But I guess it doesn't. So just in case you were wondering, not only do I think Nazi's are abhorrent, I think Black lives matter and Trans lives matter and Gay and Lesbian lives matter and your life matters just as much as mine and vice-versa. I'm not sure that Anne Frank was right that we're all good at heart, but I know that it's what we should strive for.

As you all know, I like to garden. Growing food in my little organic plot has taught me that there's strength in diversity. Growing just one kind of plant breeds disease and attracts pests. And makes for very boring dinners. The same is true with people - too much sameness leads to the disease of bigotry and attracts violent, destructive pests.

Let's hope this is the final eruption of this shit. 

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It'll be better when it's better

I love a good redemption story. I go weak in the knees when the hero stumbles, makes big mistakes, and somehow finds his way back. There's nothing quite as satisfying as a generally good guy who self-destructs in a big way before figuring out how to make his life better than before, preferably all tied in with a nice romantic happy ever after.

Redemption stories, or at least the opportunity for that kind of story, are all around us. I've known plenty of people who made a big mess of their lives using alcohol or drugs or gambling or spending or sex or food. Modern life seems filled with addictions of various kinds. Sometimes addictions are benign, other times they're a train wreck. Maybe that's part of why I like redemption stories so much, most of the destructive narratives I see in real life don't end well. Thank God for fiction.

Studies show that novel reading makes us more empathetic. Maybe it's because they train us to believe that it's never too late, that love is just around the corner and it's all going to be okay. And in the end, even if everything isn't okay, isn't it better to believe in the possibilities of redemption for ourselves and for those around us? I think so. 

But then I would.

How about you?

A good predator is hard to find

 

There are rabbits in my garden. Lots of them. It's a community garden, so there are plenty of opinions about what to do. We tried live trapping, but some folks think that puts the poor bunnies at risk. I think not trapping them is endangering my beans, but that's a discussion for another time. In the meantime, we've reinforced the fence and are doing our best to keep the damned things out. What I'd really like to do is build a perch tall enough to attract a hawk or owl or eagle to eat or scare away all the bunnies and chipmunks and mice. 

Life isn't supposed to always be sweet and cuddly. The fox I saw trotting down the road with a small animal clamped in it's mouth was just another parent taking food back to the kits. I hope that dinner didn't involve a neighbor's cat, but I can't really blame the fox if it did. She's got to feed her babies.

All this death and destruction got me thinking about the editing process. It isn't always pretty. For the most part, I'd rather not add that extra scene or take out that wonderful anecdote or tighten up loose plot points or characters. But I know from experience that without a hawk-eyed editor, my stories can get as stunted as those half-eaten beans. If I insist that editors treat me gently, the story (and eventually the readers) will suffer.

I could extend this hawk metaphor further - talk about how editors can step back from a manuscript and see clearly just like eagles sitting on a perch - but I think you get the point. And I'm betting that those are the bits any sharp-eyed editor would pluck from this blog post anyway. I will say that anyone who tries to edit their own work is likely to end up running around in circles like I did the other day as I tried to chase a rabbit out of the garden. The slippery devil slid under a spot in the fence where I didn't know it could go. I did learn something that helped me plug one more hole, but I didn't solve the problem. At least not as effectively as a wise old owl would. 

Everything needs a little pruning. Even if it hurts.

 

Breaking habits

I've been going through line edits for my next book and the process has me thinking about my bad habits. Every time I go through this, there are a few mistakes that pop out as tics. No, I'm not going to give you examples because then they might jump out at you, too. Perhaps they already do. I am pondering the best ways to break myself of these little stutters.

They say the first step to fixing any problem is to become aware of it and I suppose that's as true for writing gaffes as it is for anything else. If only I could remember from one line editing pass to the next rough draft. Maybe I should make a list and post it on my wall. That would be sensible. 

I'm not that organized. Another problem I've identified but haven't yet solved.

When I was a kid we used to chant, "Every day, in every way, I'm getting better and better." The internet says that phrase was invented by Emile Coue, not Brenda, the cool girl in my third grade class. Either way, I hope it's true and that someday I'll get a manuscript back with no editing suggestions at all. I suspect that the reality is more onion-like and that when one set of tics is cured, another will become more apparent.

One more time.... every day, in every way.....

All I can say is thank god for editors. And readers who forgive.

 

Happy Summer

Sorry I'm not around much but living up here where the summer is really only about six weeks long makes it tempting to spend as much time outside as possible.

I am working on the edits to Making Home, though, and picking away at a new story that'll be finding its way into the pipeline sooner or later. Don't worry, I'll keep you posted.

In the meantime. enjoy the summer while it lasts.

Learning from Isaac, free

Last month I participated in Jeff and Will's Big Gay Giveaway on Instafreebie and had a great time. I gave away over 1000 copies of Learning from Isaac. It was heartening to know that many people were interested in the story. Hopefully I've made a few new friends along the way.

Because the giveaway was so successful, I decided to leave it up. So Learning From Isaac is still free on Instafreebie and will be into the near future. If you haven't read it, this is your chance to pick up a copy and see what you think. Or to recommend the series to a friend. Learning from Isaac is the first in the Tarnished Souls Jewish Holiday gay romance series.

Click here to check it out

Gorgeous cover by Jordan Castillo Price

 

It’s hard to break out of a rut. For years, Nathan submerged himself into his job at St. Genevieve’s. He enjoys teaching, hates faculty meetings, loves his science and has committed himself to the cycle of college life. Along the way, he's become resigned to being a gay man in a straight culture, a Jew among Catholics, and single in a world of couples. Then the brilliant Isaac Wolf appears in his classroom. Isaac’s a few years older than his fellow students, gorgeous, self-composed and Jewish. 

Isaac has his own secrets, which Nathan finds out at the racy new club downtown where the boys who dance out front can be bought in the back room. Nathan thinks he’s about to get a lap dance, but behind the beaded curtain the man on his knees turns out to be Isaac. Nathan's mind isn't the only thing Isaac blows. Afterward, Nathan can't stop thinking about that night. The question is whether Nathan can let himself fall in love with a student, much less someone with Isaac’s checkered past. Is it too late for a student to teach his professor the true nature of love and respect?

This is a revised, author’s edition of the first Tarnished Souls story, originally published in 2012 by Loose Id.

Devy, Devy, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?

I'm an avid vegetable gardener. Growing peas and beans and squash is a ridiculously frantic activity where I live. If I had any sense, I'd move south, somewhere where the growing season is longer than two months. 

The kind of gardening we do up here is to normal climate gardening as  high intensity exercising is to a stroll in the park. (You know what I mean, those 10 minute workouts, or 7 or I think I've even seen 2 - which is kind of my speed except I can't imaging working THAT HARD for 2 full minutes.) The gardening equivalent means putting seeds in the ground June 1 and praying that we don't have a frost before the end of August. 

Over the course of the last month, I've spent as much time as possible in the garden. But I have managed to get a bit of writing done in the meantime. Fortunately, the dreaded day job puts minimal demands on me in the summer. Otherwise I'd be seriously pressed for time, because unfortunately, I don't function well without sleep. 

This is what it looks like now - not too impressive but give it some time. Gardening is all about patience, which makes it a good lesson for me. Any gardeners out there? I'd love to see photos of gardens in warmer zones. Gives me hope for the future.

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If you write it, they will come

So here's a cool thing that happened recently. I live way up in northern Wisconsin in a tiny rednecky town. Over the years we've had a few progressive actions here and there, nothing very big. Since January 2017 there's been a lot more activity. Three hundred people came out for the Women's March and 200 for the March for Science. That may not seem like a lot to those of you who live in bluer places, but we've been feeling pretty good about it.

Now to the cool thing. Last year I wrote a short story for the GRNW Anthology. It was set in Lacland, my fictional town that's sort of like this one. In it, a couple of guys meet at the local library during a planning meeting for the very first Lacland area Pride parade. So imagine how I felt when I found myself a year later at the local library participating in planning the very first Northwoods Pride event. It's a picnic, not a parade and as far as I know no one hooked up at the planning meeting. Details, details. Something I wrote about is actually happening tomorrow and while I really didn't do much to help it get going, I do feel like there's a little bit of magic at work. Happy Pride!

If you're in the northwoods, come on by tomorrow for our first annual Northwoods Pride Picnic!

I get by with a little help...

I just spent a wonderful weekend with dear friends. As a group, we've been friends for over twenty years. We've since scattered and now live all over the place, from Seattle to Belfast, and yet we try to get together once a year for some serious girlfriend time. It's a sweet time, funny, deep and delicious, filled with good food and better conversation.

All that got me thinking about the value of longtime friendships in real life and in fiction. Generally I'm drawn to the magic of falling in love with a stranger, although in Buyout I really enjoyed the sweet sadness of rediscovering the one that got away. But I'm a big fan of non-romantic friendships and I love it when a main character has a best friend they've known forever. Getting to know someone through the eyes of their friends is such a great way to see their hidden depths. I also think that our ability to maintain friendships is an indication of our capacity for intimacy. Too bad so many of my characters are loners. I guess I'm drawn to the strong, silent, complicated and unpredictable type.

One of my favorite things we ate this weekend was a shaved asparagus salad. I'd never been served raw asparagus. It was surprisingly tender and tasty - the perfect spring salad. Here's a link to the recipe  Best with a glass of wine and a very good friend.

Dev's News Flash

I'm seven months into my newsletter. You may not think seven straight months is a long time, but consistency has never been my strong suit, especially when it comes to things like newsletters or blog posts. Life just has a tendency to get in the way. You know how it is. 

But so far, I've been having a great time with my newsletter, Dev's News Flash. I think it's because it's low on News and big on Flash. Every month I write a piece of fiction and send it out to my subscribers. The pieces are short and often a bit experimental and I'm having a blast doing them.

If you're interested in subscribing, here's a link. 

I spent some time this month at the bedside of a friend who was in hospice. It was sad and sweet and real. I'm hoping that's also true of this month's flash. I call it Afterlife.

 

My grandmother is dying. Maybe if I say it enough, the magnitude of it all will sink in. Because sometimes it’s hard to keep track of what’s really happening when I’m caught up in the mundane details of fluffing her pillows or getting her some juice.

Having someone die in a hospital bed in the living room is chaotic and gut wrenchingly boring at the same time. Friends visit, offering her comfort and companionship along with conversation she can’t always follow and food she doesn’t want. An aide or a volunteer shows up nearly every day to help her and to give me a break. The chaplain comes by sometimes. Or a social worker. There’s probably a schedule they’re following but I haven’t figured it out, so I never know when to expect them.

Except the hospice nurse. He appears like an apparition every afternoon between five and six.

I owe Gran my life. It might sound melodramatic but it’s true. I was fifteen and had just survived my second suicide attempt when she took me in—a scrawny gay kid with a bad attitude that did a terrible job of hiding my fear that no one anywhere would ever love me. She drove a hundred miles through a snow storm to rescue me. At the hospital, she told my parents that they’d have to kill her first before she’d let them send me into another conversion therapy hell. They washed their hands of the both of us and that was that.

Twenty years later here I am, sitting by her bed in my best shirt, hoping that when he shows up, the hospice nurse will notice me. I know that sounds pathetic, and maybe it is. I like to think of it as a coping mechanism.

Gran opens her eyes. “I don’t want you to be alone, John.”

I pat her hand. “Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine.”

My last relationship and my grandmother’s chemotherapy treatments ended the same week. Nothing dramatic, we just both realized we’d been trying too hard for too long and it was time to move on.

The hospice nurse’s name is Simon. He has dark hair and brown eyes that are so sincere you could drown in them. Before he touches my gran he always asks her permission in a voice that sounds like the proverbial healing cloud of amethyst light. It’s after four. He’ll be here soon.

Loving someone, even living with someone, shouldn’t be that difficult. We all have our quirks and no one is attractive all the time. But in the end, isn’t it enough to treat each other with kindness?

That’s what I tell the kids. I’m a high school guidance counselor. Most summers I take a second job just to earn some extra cash, but this summer I’m back sleeping in my old room so Gran can die at home. She didn’t get really bad until June and will be gone by the time school starts in the fall. Considerate as always.

Gran has had boyfriends over the years but none of them stuck around. She jokes that she passed her terrible taste in men down to me. As I watch Gran sleep, I think the problem is we’ve been focusing on the wrong traits. She looks old and shrunken but still beautiful to me. And I’m not sure I’ve ever loved her more. I want to know someone for a long time, so long that it doesn’t matter if my face wrinkles or I go through an unfortunate haircut phase or my carefully cultivated six-pack disappears.

I think it might be Simon’s hands that I find most attractive. They’re strong, confident hands. Often, after he checks on her medication and examines her for bed sores, he’ll linger for a while and we’ll talk. One afternoon, while I watched him massage her feet, I imagined how his hands would move while making dinner. Another day I fantasized we were building a house together and Simon was swinging his hammer with the regularity of a pendulum or the second hand of a watch—predictable, steady and strong.

Every day, Gran talks a little less and sleeps a lot more. She doesn’t want to watch television anymore and music only makes her anxious. The house echoes with a sad silence as I pad from room to room wondering what I’ll do without her.

I know Simon’s knock by now, two soft raps. Gran doesn’t stir. I only hear him because I’ve been listening. I cross the living room to the front door, my heart racing like it’s prom night. Maybe that’s okay. Pursuing new interests can help with depression. That’s what the advice columnists say.

It’s hot outside, but Simon looks cool in blue slacks and a white dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up. He rests a hand on the handle of his roller bag and for the umpteenth time I wish he was just coming to stay for the weekend. Gran could make her famous lasagna, and after dinner Simon and I could sit out on the lawn watching the stars and telling secrets.

“How are you?” He cocks his head to one side, his eyes locked on mine in a look that’s probably just professional sympathy but that I decide to believe is real concern.

There’s no good answer to his question, so I shrug and open the door wider to let him in.

I gesture to the hospital bed that dominates the living room. “She was sleeping but she might wake up for you.”

Simon isn’t my type. I’ve always gone for the kind of men that I thought would make me look good. Tall, fit, musclebound guys that everyone can admire. I’ve always been on the lookout to trade up. It’s what one does.

That’s not a game Simon can play. Although, now that I look at him, I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t want him. He’s kind and patient, handsome with gorgeous eyes and those strong, competent hands that I dream about.

But he’s short. Really short. Little people short. And for some reason that doesn’t matter to me. Not anymore.

Gran’s eyes flutter open. She smiles at Simon. He smiles back, hits the button and Gran’s hospital bed descends until it’s even with his thighs. She nods when he asks if he can check her pulse. He goes through his routine, all the while talking with her in that soothing, calming voice. I watch from a distance. She’s happy with him. And that makes my heart swell. I imagine the three of us eating Thanksgiving dinner together or opening presents under the tree.

Gran catches my eye. She waves her hand vaguely in a gesture I interpret as a summons. I come over and stand on the other side of her bed. It’s as if Simon and I are her body guards.

She licks her lips and waves me closer. I lean down. She whispers, “I’m glad you’ve finally found a nice boy. He’ll be good to you.”

“No Gran. We’re not—” I glance at Simon. My face floods. I’m mortified that she’s voicing hallucinations that dovetail with my fantasies. “This is Simon. He’s your nurse, Gran.”

She waves her hand, dismissing the confusion and my embarrassment. “Ask him out.”

I look at Simon, who’s concentrating on fixing a wrinkle in her bed linens. I start to say I’m sorry, that Gran must be dreaming, but then I stop. Something about the way he’s not meeting my gaze tells me I might not be the only one who’s been looking forward to these visits.

When I stop talking mid-sentence, he looks up. I don’t know what to say.

Simon turns to Gran with a smile. “Not yet, Louise. We’re focused on you right now. There’ll be plenty of time for John and I to get to know each other better later.” He places his hand on hers and his gaze flicks to me. “That is, if he wants to.”

I stare at him as my heart does a somersault. “I’d like that.”

“Good.” Gran’s words come out in a whisper. “You’ll keep coming by after work until then?”

Simon chuckles. “I thought the extra visits on my own time were our secret. Of course. I’ll be by every day for as long as it takes.”

After work? The first time Simon came to see Gran was in the morning. He didn’t come again until the next week. As I look from him to Gran and back again I try to remember when he started showing up every day after five. Was coming more often than he had to Gran’s idea or his? Either way she’s taking care of me right up until the end. And beyond.

I cover their hands with my own. It feels like a pledge. The promise of a future.

Gran smiles and closes her eyes.