Monday, October 16, 2017

So. Much. Editing!

I wanted to check in and let you know Take a Chance on Me is coming right along! I typed 'The End' about a week ago and have been plowing through the editing phase ever since.

We're down to just a matter of days before it's totally done and I get to hit that publish button on Amazon and Smashwords. Stay tuned! I'll post here, announce it on Facebook, and send out an email to my newsletter mailing list as soon as it goes live.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

TBT is going on hiatus!

I'm barreling toward "The End" with Take a Chance on Me (Quinn's story, the next book in my Firsts and Forever Series), so I'm going to be taking a break from my Throwback Thursday blog posts for the next few weeks. My work in progress is just all-consuming right now and demanding my full attention. It'll be out in October, exact release date TBA!

I'll start Throwback Thursdays back up again after Quinn's book is in your hands. :)


Monday, September 18, 2017

Teaser for Take a Chance on Me

I don't tend to post a lot of teasers, because I never want to give too much away with my upcoming books. But I've been totally immersed in Take a Chance on Me, the next book in my Firsts and Forever series, and I really wanted to share a taste of it with you. The scene at the end of this post contains no spoilers, just FYI.

Take a Chance on Me is Quinn's story, and it's coming out in early October, exact release date TBA (I always just send them to Amazon the moment they're done, so I can never really predict what day that'll be). His love interest is a police officer named Duke, who's been in the background over the course of several books in the series (he was Cole's uptight roommate in All I Ever Wanted, which came out in June).

Here's Quinn on the cover:


He's a ballet dancer, and absolutely passionate about his craft. In a scene I just wrote this past weekend (which still needs to be edited), he and Duke are having dinner at Chance and Finn's house (the main characters from Coming Home, book 9 in the series). I love several things about this scene: getting to really learn what ballet means to Quinn, revisiting some of our old, familiar characters, including sweet, fragile Elijah (who we also met in Coming Home), and watching Duke's reaction at the end of the scene. Just to set it up a bit, this is told from Quinn's perspective. He's just arrived at the house and is meeting Elijah for the first time. I hope you enjoy it! <3


And then there was Elijah. I’d been told the tiny, blue-eyed blond was nineteen, but he looked much younger. He sat off by himself with his knees pulled up to his chest, reading a thick textbook, and he glanced up and nodded when Chance introduced us. On the drive over, Duke had explained that Elijah and Colt used to date, and that Finn had become Elijah’s legal guardian, because the kid had been a runaway with no one else to turn to. That had to be awkward, living with his ex-boyfriend’s family.
Elijah seemed completely isolated, even in a room full of people, and I found myself wanting desperately to be his friend. I knew Finn and his family cared about this kid, but he just looked so fragile, and his eyes were haunted, in a way that resonated with me, deep down. Even without knowing the particulars of what he’d run away from, I understood, and I wanted him to know I did.
At the same time though, I knew at a glance that it’d be way too easy to overdo it and freak him out. So I reeled in the urge to give him a huge hug, and instead, I plucked three cookie pops from the bouquet I’d begged Duke to make for our hosts. I gave two of them to Colt and Cory as I joked about ruining dinner, and then I crossed the room to Elijah and said, “Please accept this raccoon on a stick, from one hot blond to another.” When he grinned, it felt like a total win.
He took the treat from me and asked, in a soft voice tinged with a faint southern accent, “Where’d you get a raccoon-shaped cookie?”
“I coerced my boyfriend into baking them for tonight,” I said as I sat down in the club chair beside his. “It’s part of a woodland-themed cookie bouquet. There are also bears, pine trees, and a ton of squirrels. But I happen to think the raccoons are the best, because of those little masks. They’re like, nature’s Hamburglars.”
When Elijah burst out laughing, I wanted to do a fist-pump. Apparently it was fairly unusual, too, because every member of his family stopped what they were doing to glance at him. Fortunately, he didn’t seem to notice, and he asked, “Why a woodland theme?” He started to raise the cute critter to his lips, but then he took pity on it and chose to save it.
“My thought process basically consisted of, ‘well, who doesn’t like squirrels?’ Later on, I realized my logic was faulty, because anti-squirrel prejudice is actually rampant in our society. But by then, Duke was fully committed to the woodland theme, so it was too late to bail out.”
Elijah grinned and said, “Did you buy the sweater to match the cookies?”
I looked down at my snazzy red sweater with a raccoon knit into the front of it and said, “Oh no, I already owned this.”
“Seriously?”
“Dude, do you have something to say about my righteous raccoon sweater? Because this is bad-ass!”
“If you say so. Where’d you find it?”
“At a yard sale! Oh my God, they’re so much fun! They’re like, a huge scavenger hunt, except you don’t know what you’re looking for when you start off.”
He grimaced a bit. “So, that’s a used raccoon sweater.”
“Yeah, but it still had the tags on it, because who on earth besides me would ever wear such a thing?”
“I have absolutely no answer to that.”
“Yeah, me neither, actually.”
After a pause, he said, “So, Finn mentioned you’re a ballet dancer when he was talking you up earlier. I’m curious, are you able to stand en pointe?”
“Yup.”
“I’ve always wanted to ask, doesn’t that hurt? Because it looks incredibly painful.”
“Hell yes it hurts! Here’s a little secret about ballet: it all hurts.”
“So, why do you do it?”
“Because some things are worth suffering for.”
“Is it, though?”
I said, “I think I love ballet in part because it’s difficult, and because it pushes my body to its absolute limit. It’s hard to explain, but I get a deep sense of satisfaction out of excelling at something so challenging.” 
“That makes sense.”
“I also happen to think ballet is one of the most beautiful things in all the world.” I lowered my voice and admitted quietly, “And when I dance, I feel beautiful. It’s the only time I do. Or it was, before I met my boyfriend. He makes me feel beautiful, too.” I grinned shyly and glanced at Duke across the room, who was chatting with Chance and Finn around the long, stainless steel bar that fronted the kitchen. “Ballet also makes me feel powerful, and in total control of my body. I needed that desperately when I was a kid. I guess I still do.”
Elijah met my gaze, and a look of understanding passed between us. I knew right then he’d been hurt, the way I had. Or possibly far, far worse.
After a moment, he said, “I’ve never seen ballet performed live. I’m curious now.”
I said, “I’m doing a show in three weeks, so I’ll send you and your family some tickets if you want. Just be forewarned, the show gets a bit adult in parts.”
When he reached up to tuck a strand of hair behind his ear, the sleeve of his huge, blue cardigan fell back, revealing a delicate charm bracelet. His voice grew softer than usual when he said, “That, um…that might be a bit uncomfortable for me.”
“How about coming with me to watch the San Francisco Ballet perform?”
“I don’t know. I don’t do well with crowds.”
I got up and bowed deeply, then said, “In that case, I cordially invite you to the patio for an uncrowded and family-friendly performance of one of my very favorite routines.”
Elijah’s eyes went wide, and he stammered, “Um, you really don’t have to do that.”
I’d obviously crossed the line from friendly person to scary lunatic as far as Elijah was concerned. I tried to reel it in a little by dropping to one knee, so I wasn’t standing over him, and saying softly, “I’m a lot, I know. When I meet somebody I want to be friends with, like you, I usually try too hard and just make it awkward. But there’s one thing I can do well, and that’s dance. And yeah, I know it’s weird to want to dance for you, but weird is kind of what I do.”
He watched me for a moment, then asked, “Why do you want to be my friend?”
“Because you laugh at my jokes, and because you think that cookie is too cute to bite its head off, which makes me think we have a lot in common.”
He glanced at the cookie pop in his left hand and said, “I’m actually considering shellacking it, so it’ll last forever.”
I tilted my head toward the patio at the back of the building and said, “Come on, let me show you what ballet is all about. I already embarrassed myself with the raccoon sweater and the bizarre request to dance for you. Let me achieve the trifecta of awkwardness by actually going through with it.”
Elijah stared at me for a moment, and then he grinned a little and said, “It’s nice not being the weirdest person in the room for once.”
I jumped up and exclaimed, “That’s a yes, isn’t it?”
He got up too and said, “Sure. Why not?”
A few minutes later, Duke, Elijah, and the rest of his family were lined up in chairs on the edge of the patio, which had been cleared of furniture. I’d done some stretches, stripped down to just my jeans, and cued up a song on Finn’s stereo, which he’d very accommodatingly relocated to just inside the back door. I stood facing the bay and my little audience, lit by the strands of white bulbs which rimmed the cement patio, and said, “I wanted Elijah to experience ballet first-hand, so thanks for humoring me. This is the number I performed when I auditioned for the San Francisco Ballet. I hope you like it.” Colt and Cory looked bored, while everyone else had a politely interested expression fixed in place. They were probably expecting the death scene from Swan Lake, or some tired shit like that. I grinned a little and pressed a button on the antiquated stereo.
Everyone’s eyes went wide when Bohemian Rhapsody started to play, even Duke’s, and he should have known me well enough by that point to guess I wasn’t going to do anything conventional. During the a cappella introduction, I swung my arms around and leaned so far backwards that my fingers grazed the concrete. Then I moved deliberately around the patio, executing a series of pirouettes, arms up, toes pointed, head back, in perfect form, just like I’d been taught.
When the tempo picked up, I brought it. I leapt high into the air and spun, dropped onto the deck and rolled across it, then pushed off, arching my body. For the next few minutes, I reacted to the music, I became it, forgetting everything but how to move. I executed a flawless series of grand jettes, wide, soaring leaps across the stage. I felt so alive! My body responded with everything it had. It knew that routine, every note, every moment. I swirled across the stage, bending, twisting, and leapt into the air again, defying gravity, completing two complete rotations before I landed. I reached out, elongating my body, then jumped and spun again. It was as natural and familiar as breathing. It was strength and beauty, power and grace. It was everything.
As the final notes of the song faded out, I slowed, then stilled with one arm raised overhead and my right leg stretched behind me. All was silent for a moment. I’d forgotten where I was. Then someone exclaimed, “Holy shit!”
I looked up and remembered my little audience beside the bay. They were still staring at me with wide eyes. In the next instant, Elijah leapt to his feet and started clapping wildly. The rest of the group followed his lead, and I grinned embarrassedly at my standing ovation and took a bow.
Duke crossed the cement patio to me, dipped me back, and kissed me passionately. Then he looked deep into my eyes and whispered, “You astonish me.” 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Throwback Thursday: Saw This & Thought of You!

I absolutely love it when my readers spot something out in the world that makes them go, "OH MY GOD, it's just like that scene in Alexa's book!" Here are a few examples:

First up is the armed crustacean from The Distance. I've been tagged in this video at least two dozen times, and that's totally fine by me. :) Click here for the video, complete with awesome soundtrack!


And then there's the Royal Rodent from Skye Blue. You accidentally dye a mouse pink, and people never forget it. :)


Then there are the dick suits from Who I Used to Be.

I actually wrote that costume into the book based on this video, which I was tagged in when Who I Used to Be was a work in progress!

Finally, here are a few versions of Cockhenge, courtesy of my readers:




It always puts a smile on my face to know things in the real world can trigger a memory from the series. So keep on tagging me in those OMG moments, friends!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Throwback Thursday: Allllll the way back to the beginning

Way Off Plan was the first novel I published, but it wasn't the first MM romance I wrote. That was actually a paranormal tale called Feral. Once I wrote it, I didn't really know what to do with it, so Feral lived on my computer for a while. After I released Way Off Plan and All In and they did well on Amazon, I went back and published Feral. I was shocked as hell when the book I'd basically written just for me actually took off and helped launch my fledgling career.


It's an odd thing, looking back at this book now. I was such a novice writer, and I see that in these pages. But at the same time, I adore it, both for what it is and for all it represents. 

I wrote this book at a time when I'd all but lost my voice. I was a full-time mom in a bad marriage, with no income, few creative outlets, and a distinct lack of self-esteem. But I wrote this book. I wrote it for me, because I needed to find my voice again. I wrote it because I had a burning desire to make something and reconnect with the creative part of me that almost went extinct when I let "mother" and "wife" totally define me.

Below is the prologue and a scene from Feral. I very rarely look inside this book now, maybe because it's so wrapped up with a part of my life that no longer exists. I will always be a mother first and foremost. But after I published this book, the bad marriage ended, and I learned I could not only survive but thrive on my own. Feral played a significant role in my journey, and it'll always be a part of me.


*****

Prologue

He was watching me.

I sensed his presence weeks before I saw him. Day after day, I peered out into the woods beside the lake house, unable to shake the feeling that someone was out there. But I never caught a glimpse of him. Eventually, I convinced myself it had to be my imagination, that spending so much time by myself was starting to mess with my mind.

I was so wrong.

*****


Against all odds, apparently I’d actually managed to fall asleep for a while. I sat up on the hard kitchen floor and looked at the clock on the stove, which read 2:13 a.m. I hadn’t managed to sleep the whole night away, but the fact that I’d slept at all was pretty remarkable.

My head was pounding. I got up only as far as my knees and reached for a bottle of aspirin, then used my hand as a cup and scooped tap water into my mouth to wash down a couple pills. I started to lay back down on the floor, but my back and shoulders were so stiff from sleeping there that I forced myself to my feet and pointed myself at the couch. I turned off all the lights on the way into the living room, the complete darkness far more soothing to my throbbing headache.

I curled up in a ball on the couch and shut my eyes. And the skin on the back of my neck prickled. I opened my eyes again and lay perfectly still, my subconscious warning me not to move so I’d remain hidden, because it sensed some kind of danger.

Something caught my eye then. Movement. Something out in the night. I remained motionless, scanning the darkness beyond the windows as fear trickled like ice water down my spine. It was probably nothing, I told myself. A deer maybe. Or a raccoon. Something harmless.

Movement again, barely visible in the faint light from the sliver of moon. Something out past the deck. Out at the water’s edge. Something big.

Something pacing.

I couldn’t tell if it was human. Or Nikolai. It shouldn’t be. He should be many, many miles away right now.

Wasn’t he?

My throat had gone dry and it was difficult to swallow, the sound unbearably loud in the perfect quiet. I still didn’t move, even though I knew that was pointless. If it was a vampire – mine, or perhaps another one – then it could see me perfectly right now in the darkness. It knew I was here. It knew I was defenseless.

What was it waiting for?

My heart was beating so hard that I wondered if whatever was out there could hear it. I sat up slowly, my hands sweating as I braced them against the couch. I wondered if I’d locked the front door, then almost rolled my eyes at my stupidity. The house was glass. If whatever was out there wanted in, it only had to smash a window. A lock wasn’t going to stop it.

The thing in the dark stepped up onto the deck.

It was backlit and human in form, a bit hunched, broad shoulders outlined in moonlight, powerful arms ending in big hands that were contorted somehow. Curled like claws.

I had no idea if it was Nikolai.

It seemed to be breathing hard, its body expanding and contracting as it drew air into its lungs.

And then it crouched slightly. Ready to pounce.

I vaulted over the back of the couch, fear a sharp taste in my mouth as I took the stairs three at a time. I had to get away. Now. I hurled myself across the dark bedroom, heading for the bathroom and the only solid walls in the house.

I didn’t make it.

A hand closed around my ankle, and I slammed face down onto the wood floor. I hadn’t heard glass shattering, I didn’t know how it had reached me so quickly. But it had me now.

A heavy body leapt on top of me and I cried out as the air was forced from my lungs. Hands were tearing at my clothes, stripping me. I was brutally flipped over, and a mouth pressed against my own. It tasted of blood and salt. And it tasted of Nikolai. 



Thursday, August 31, 2017

Throwback Thursday: Jessie and Kai, When Enemies became Lovers

Today I'm looking back at The Distance, book 11 in the Firsts and Forever Series. This is Jessie's story. I loved him from the moment I introduced him in the series, and I was so happy to give him his own book and a sweet happily ever after!


Here's my inspiration photo for Kai, Jessie's love interest:


So sexy! He was named by one of my readers, by the way, a kind, lovely woman named Anita, who lives in Australia. I now refer to her as Kai's godmother. :)

Kai and Jessie start out as enemies. They're rival street racers, and Jessie blames Kai (who he knows only by his racing name, Trigger, at first) for playing dirty and wrecking Jessie's car in a head-to-head drag race. Kai sees things very differently. In the following scene from The Distance, the spark ignites between our two main characters:

Trigger was dressed in a tight, black tank top and worn-out jeans, and was washing his hands in an industrial sink when I came in. The shop’s interior was spotless and well-maintained, in sharp contrast to the outside. His Mustang and two black, late sixties Impalas were lined up on the far side of the concrete floor. The Stang’s hood was up, and an empty paper coffee cup and a greasy shop rag decorated its fender.

 To say he was surprised to see me was a major understatement. Trigger’s brown eyes went wide and he blurted, “What the fuck are you doing here?”

“I want an apology. I also want a rematch, but first we have to find a track with a concrete barrier down the center to keep you from coming at me again.”

He raised an eyebrow. “If you think I’m capable of purposely trying to wreck your car, why would you come here? I mean, according to you, I’m guilty of attempted murder. I also must have the reflexes of a cobra, since I managed to hit your careening car in the split second that your tire blew out. Yet here you are, strolling into the lair of someone who’d have to be a complete sociopath, given your accusations.”

“I don’t think you meant to hurt me. You’re a dick, not a psycho. You probably just wanted to knock my car out of commission. But that’s still incredibly dangerous and a really shitty thing to do to someone, so would it kill you to say you’re sorry? Just once? Would those words make you shrivel up and die, right here on the concrete?”

His voice rose as he exclaimed, “Why would I apologize when you hit me?”

“Oh yeah. I swerved right, hit you, and then my car went flying off to the left, where it rolled half a dozen times. Because physics works like that!”

“Sure it does, when we’re talking about your little Fisher Price car ricocheting off a solid metal object!” He stormed over to his Mustang, picked up the paper coffee cup and said, “Here’s a demonstration so you can understand this once and for all. This cup will stand in for your toy car, since they weigh about the same. My Mustang will be playing herself in this reenactment. I’m driving along, minding my own business, but then your tire explodes and oh, look!” He threw the cup at the Ford’s fender, and it bounced off and rolled across the floor. “See that? That’s exactly what happened! Cause and effect. You hit me, you bounced off, and the stupid embankment on the side of the road acted like a ramp, so you went airborne and then you rolled. I’m sure that sucked, I’m sure it was scary as shit, but what it wasn’t was my fucking fault.”

“Thank you for that brilliant reenactment, and your point would have been made spectacularly, except for the fact that I was actually driving something made by Mazda and not by fucking Dixie.”

“Whatever. My car weighed twice as much as yours, so the result was the same.”

“Except that here’s what actually happened,” I said, marching over to the coffee cup. “You hit me, and my car did this.” I stomped on the cup and flattened it. “And yet, somehow, saying you’re sorry is just asking way the hell too much from you!”

Trigger’s voice rose again. “Fine. I’m sorry you hit me. I am, actually. It sucks that you got hurt, and that you wrecked your shitty toy car. But you were what caused all of that!”

“Asshole!”

“Fucking stop blaming me!”

“No, because you’re to blame!”

Trigger threw his hands in the air and yelled, “You refuse to see this from anything but your own misguided perspective!”

“So do you!”

“Get the fuck out of my shop. I’m so sick of you and your kind!”

“My kind!” I narrowed my eyes at him. “Don’t tell me you’re also a homophobe, as if just being a regular asshole wasn’t enough!”

“You’re gay?”

“Duh!”

“Well, how was I supposed to know that? It’s not like you’re wearing a sign around your neck.”
I said flatly, “No, just three beaded necklaces.”

He waved his hand dismissively and said, “That doesn’t mean anything.” Okay, he had a point there.
I asked, “So, if you didn’t mean gay people when you said ‘my kind’, what label were you trying to stick to me?”

“Spoiled brats who fix up their cars on mommy and daddy’s dime. Was your Civic a high school graduation present?”

I stared at him and said, “Dude, I’m twenty-four.”

“Oh, come on! There’s no way we’re the same age.”

“Are you ever right about anything? I mean anything at all?”

“It’s impossible that you’re twenty-four. You barely look old enough to shave!”

I rolled my eyes and pulled my driver’s license from my wallet, then went up to him and held it in front of his face. “Satisfied?”

Trigger grinned and said, “That’s the worst fake ID I’ve ever seen.”

“Based on what?”

“You called yourself Jessie James, and spelled Jessie with an i-e.”

“Granted, I’ve regretted that last name, and I’ll probably change it again, but the ID’s not fake.”

“What do you mean, change it again?”

“I legally changed my name a few years ago, because the one my parents gave me completely sucked.”

“What could possibly be worse than Jessie-with-an-i-e James?”

“None of your damn business,” I said as I shoved the license back in my wallet and returned it to my pocket. “Neither is this, but James was my middle name. That’s why I used it. It wasn’t because I have a great love of bank-robbing outlaws.”

He chuckled and said, “Wow, you’re kind of insane.”

“And you’re an asshole. Which is worse?”

“Oh, okay. I’m an asshole because I won’t buy in to your delusions and tell you what you want to hear.”

“No, you’re an asshole because you’re an asshole.”

Trigger knit his dark brows. “That’s enough name-calling for one night. Go home, Jessie James.”

“Sure,” I said, my stubbornness flaring, “just as soon as you apologize for ramming my car and making me crash last year and for running a dirty race tonight!”

His voice rose again, and so did the color in his cheeks. “It’s not unusual for cars to swerve at those speeds when they’re in the straight-away, and sometimes they bump into each other! If you can’t understand those basic facts, you have no business racing!”

“Oh no. Do not try to explain racing to me! I’ve been doing this most of my life! That’s how I know the difference between an unintentional drift and the crap you pull when you’re on the track!”

 “You don’t know shit, and I told you to get out.”

“Not until you fucking apologize!” He grabbed my upper arm and started to tow me to the side door, and I yelled, “Let go of me!”

He went right on pulling me across the shop. “No matter what I say, you just won’t listen. You think you know everything! You think you know me, but you don’t have a fucking clue!”

“I said let go of me!” I tried to yank my arm from his grasp and hip-checked him fairly hard in the process. That threw him off balance, and he fell over and pulled me down with him. Trigger rolled over so he was straddling me, and I swore at him and almost slapped him as I flailed around and tried to free myself.

He caught my wrists and pinned them to the floor on either side of my head as he exclaimed, “Just calm down!” When I finally stopped struggling, we stared at each other for a long moment as I caught my breath and my heart raced.


Without warning, lust shot through me like a jolt from a defibrillator. When Trigger let go of my wrists, I grabbed the front of his shirt and pulled him to me. In the next instant, we were kissing wildly. I rolled over so I was on top of him and devoured his mouth, and he ran his hands down my back and grabbed my ass. I had absolutely no explanation for what was happening. None at all. I went with it anyway.


*****

Ahhhh I love those two! From that rough beginning, they went on to be the sweetest couple, and later a family. 

Next up in the series is Take a Chance on Me. It's Quinn's story (who we met in the last book in the series, All I Ever Wanted). It should be out in late September/early October, exact release date TBA.

Thanks for reading! 



Thursday, August 24, 2017

Throwback Thursday: The Most Personal Thing I've Ever written

A few years ago, I received an email from a reader, which included a request. He asked me to consider writing a character who was HIV-positive, like himself, because he very rarely saw his story represented in the MM romances he read. 

It was something I'd wanted to do for a long time, but I hadn't been able to go there, because it hit too close to home. I lost one of my best friends to complications from the AIDS virus in the mid-nineties. Even though decades have passed, I still feel that loss as if it happened last week. But when I got that email, I knew it was time for me to face this subject.

I'm occasionally moved to tears while writing emotional parts of my books, but I've never cried harder than when I wrote the following scene. This is from Who I Used to Be, book 12 in the Firsts and Forever Series. Later on, a character in the book is diagnosed with HIV. But in this scene, the two main characters, Zachary and TJ, are visiting the AIDS Memorial Grove in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. The names and a few identifying details have been changed, but this scene is drawn directly from my life. My friend and his brother are memorialized in the Grove. I'll include a few photos of this place, which is absolutely sacred to me, at the end of this post:

When we finally returned to the car, he hesitated, then turned to look at me. “There’s something I do every time I come to Golden Gate Park. I almost hate to mention it, because we’ve been having so much fun and it’s…well, it’s beautiful and important, but it’s also pretty sobering.”

“The AIDS Memorial Grove?” I guessed.

He nodded. “Two people who meant the world to me are memorialized in the Circle of Friends. I always make a point of paying my respects.”

“We have to do that,” I said.

It wasn’t far from the lake, but we chose to drive. TJ parked on the street and we walked up to the grove hand-in-hand. The sun was just beginning to set, and we had the place to ourselves. The ring of redwood trees around the memorial cast long shadows. Nestled between them, the memorial was carved out in concrete and stone. It was surrounded by thick, lush landscaping that seemed to shelter and protect the names within.

A lump formed in my throat as TJ led me to a spot he obviously knew well and knelt down. I knelt with him. Name after name after name radiated out from a central point, like ripples in a pond. He brushed his fingers over letters etched into one of the inner rings and said, “John Robertson was my best friend. He died just two months after his brother David.” He reached out and ran his fingers over another nearby name, and a tear splashed onto the memorial. “When I got out of prison, I moved to San Francisco not knowing a soul. I ended up answering a ‘roommate wanted’ ad on a community bulletin board in the Castro. John and I became best friends almost immediately.

 “The whole time I knew him, he was dying of AIDS. It was a different time back then, in the mid-nineties. The disease was a death sentence, not like now. John was considered a long-term survivor, because he’d lived with it for seven years when I met him, but his health was deteriorating fast and he knew it. My God though, the way he embraced every day, every minute! He lived more in the two years I knew him than most people do in eighty. He celebrated anything and everything. He was passionate and joyful, and I was so damn lucky to know him.

“I became close friends with his brother, too. He moved in with us the last six months of his life. John not only had to watch his brother die, he also had to see the fate that awaited him.”

TJ paused for a moment and took a deep breath. “David was skin and bones at the end. His cheeks were hollow, and his eyes were sunken. It was such an effort to speak, and he was in a wheelchair because he was too weak to walk. But he’d still crack jokes, and he’d try to make other people smile. David had this hot pink scarf with gold thread running through it. He’d have me tie it around his head, and then he’d ask me, ‘Do I look fabulous, Trevor James Dean?’ He loved my full name and insisted on using it. I always told him he looked beautiful, and that made him happy. He was wearing his scarf when he died. John and I buried him with it.”

Tears streamed down his face. TJ took another moment before continuing, so quietly, “And then…then the light went out in Johnnie’s eyes. It was like, once his brother was gone, my best friend stopped fighting. He knew death was chasing him, and he quit running.”

TJ swallowed hard and said, “When he caught the flu, we both knew it was the beginning of the end. He hadn’t deteriorated the way his brother did, but he’d always had asthma so his lungs weren’t very strong to begin with. The disease reminded me of a predator, zeroing in on his weakness, his vulnerability. When he caught the flu, he couldn’t recover. His lungs just gave out.

“I remember standing at his bedside in the hospital, watching what was left of my best friend. I knew death was coming for him that night. I felt it. I was holding his hand when he died. One minute he was there, and the next he just wasn’t anymore. I don’t know what I expected. Maybe something dramatic, the way it is in the movies. But there was nothing. He just went away.”

He pushed to his feet, and I went with him, clutching his hand. TJ whispered, “His name was John Aaron Robertson. He was thirty-six years old when he died, and he was kind, and he was gorgeous inside and out, and he was amazing. He loved his friends, and he loved life like no one I’ve ever met before or after. He was way too fucking young to die, and the world got a little colder and grayer and less beautiful when he left it.” TJ stooped down, kissed his fingertips, and pressed them to John’s name. He did the same for David, then stood up and took a deep, shaky breath.

I pulled him into my arms and we held each other for a long time. When we finally let go a little, he rested his forehead against mine and reached up with both hands to brush the tears from my cheeks. He said softly, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you cry. I just wanted to tell their story. I think that’s important. As long as their memory lives on, they’re not gone. Not really.”

*****

This is the AIDS Memorial Grove




If you're ever in San Francisco, please stop by and pay your respects to the scores of people memorialized in the Grove, including my friend. His name was Jim. He was thirty-six years old when he died, and he was kind, and he was gorgeous inside and out, and he was amazing. He loved his friends, and he loved life like no one I’ve ever met before or after. He was way too fucking young to die, and the world got a little colder and grayer and less beautiful when he left it.