Book: Bluewater Blues
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Publication date: October 17, 2016
Length: 198 pages
Jack Daley left his music career behind—along with his domineering father—and is struggling to make a new life for himself and his autistic sister in Bluewater Bay. When a summer storm sweeps a handsome stranger into his general store, Jack is more than ready for a fling. No strings attached, because Jack can’t share the secrets he and his sister are hiding from. Unfortunately, his feelings refuse to stay casual.
Mark Keao is married to his job as a costume designer on Wolf’s Landing. He’s autistic, so he’s used to people not knowing how to interact with him, but that doesn’t mean he wants to be a hermit. Especially when he meets Jack Daley, who dances with brooms, shares his love of the blues, and gets him like no one else. But relationships have proven complicated in the past.
Just when Mark is ready to try anyway, Jack pulls back. But Mark isn’t giving up, and neither is Jack’s sister. And then there’s the music both men love, bringing them together time and again. It will take trust, though, to bring them together for good.
The water ran in sheets down the big shop window, blurring the street beyond. Not that there was anything to see. The rain seemed to have swept every living soul in Bluewater Bay, tourists and movie people included, into the sea. “We might as well lock up,” Jack said, half to himself.
His sister’s reply came instantly. “No.”
He wasn’t surprised. They still had thirty minutes to go until six, and Margaret didn’t do spontaneous early closings.
It had been piddling on and off all day, promising relief from the unusual August heat, and now it was just plain pouring. “Not a soul’s going to be out in this.”
“No,” her voice came again from the back office. He couldn’t see her through the doorway behind the counter, but she’d been curled up in the armchair with her e-reader last time he’d checked.
He shrugged and resigned himself to half an hour of boredom. The specialty mustard jars on the shelf by the door didn’t really need straightening, but it passed the time. He didn’t have to count the cash to know that it had been a lousy day for Your Daley Bread sales-wise. Besides, counting the cash was Margaret’s thing; no need to butt in and upset her.
When the bell above the door chimed, he turned with relief, only to feel his smile freeze in place when he recognized the rounded shoulders under the ivory lace blouse. “Good evening, Mrs. Grissom. What can I get for you?”
She held up a gnarled finger, shook out her umbrella on the tiles, shoved it in the stand by the door, then started digging in her purse. “Just a minute. I wrote a list. I have it here somewhere. I did put it in here, I remember.” Calcified was the word that jumped into his mind as he was watching her. And not only because of her ancient physique.
He waited until she’d found her list in the pocket of her vest and handed it to him, then he read it out loud to double-check it was the right one.
At detergent, Margaret called out, “No laundry.”
The laundry detergent was one of the items still shrink-wrapped on the delivery pallet in the backyard because he hadn’t had his knife when the truck came, and then had forgotten about it.
“It’s dish detergent,” Mrs. Grissom said, pointing to her list as if it were written there.
“Coming up directly.” There was a brief silence as Jack collected all her items on the counter, mentally bracing himself for her next words. She never failed to comment on Margaret. And now Margaret had actually dared to say something in her presence.
And sure enough, as he rang up her groceries she said, “Don’t you think she’d be happier in a home?”
So very hard to keep his voice neutral. “She is home.”
Mrs. Grissom tittered. Most annoying sound in the universe. “Oh, yes, no, I mean one of those places where people like her can be properly taken care of. Maybe even have a job of sorts.”
Jack gritted his teeth. “She has a job. She’s the accountant for this business and a much better bookkeeper than I am.”
Another titter. “Oh, you’re too good. I was just trying to help.”
“I’m sure you were, Mrs. Grissom, bless your heart.”
She looked undecided for a moment. His voice giving him away, maybe? But, patently unfamiliar with that Southern slight, she eventually took the smile that was threatening to break his jaw at face value and patted his hand.
After she’d left, Jack stood braced against the counter for several long minutes, blindly staring at the rain-sheeted door, trying to unclench his jaw, trying to block the memories that defending Margaret always kicked loose.
The scent of the Magnolia dinosaur on the front lawn and red clay baking in the sun; the cricket-like trill of the sparrows, and splashing, and Margaret’s screams.
He shook his head to clear it.
People like Mrs. Grissom were the reason he’d taken Margaret away from Savannah, for her sake, and his. But they hadn’t been strangers or customers. They’d been family. Old blood and old money, so threatened by Jack’s and Margaret’s otherness that it had driven him and his sister clean across the country under a name not their own.
He should get back to work. Staying busy helped him keep the ghosts under control. The few customers they’d had that day had left muddy tracks on the black and white tiles that screamed for a cleanup. He got to work on the floor, and amused himself by humming a few notes of “Summertime Blues” into the mop’s invisible mouthpiece. Pretending it was his lost sax cut a little too deep, though, so he switched tunes, and pretended instead that it was a lamppost around which he then danced, belting out “Singing in the Rain” at the top of his lungs, when the door opened with the chime of the bell at the top, and the rain swept tall, dark, and handsome into the store.
The man was soaked from black hair to black trekking sandals. Charcoal three-quarter cargo pants clung to a fine ass, and the black T-shirt was plastered to his torso in a way that was hard not to stare at. He looked so quintessentially Washington that Jack had to smile. Also unbelievably hot. Too bad that sinking to your knees in front of your customers and begging them for permission to lick the rainwater out of their navels was generally frowned upon. “‘Sweet summer rain . . .’” he murmured before he could stop himself.
“Um,” the stranger said.
“Sorry.” Jack tried a smile and to quit staring. “I’m Jack Daley. Anything I can help you with?”
“Mark Keao. I was wondering . . .” He held up a ziplock bag filled with letter-sized posters. “There’s going to be a choir concert at St. Anthony’s on Saturday. Would you consider hanging one of these in your window?” The slow, rich baritone chased goose bumps up Jack’s arms and down to his toes.
The guy was nearly a head taller than Jack—story of his life. Not striking, as in turn to look and wolf whistle down the street, but nevertheless Jack’s gaze was drawn to the different angles of the man. Dark eyes, a slight crease giving thick, black brows the air of a perpetual scowl. A mass of leather and friendship bracelets around one bony wrist; long, slender fingers Jack could feel ghosting up skin way too starved for touch, leaving goose bumps in their wake. Raindrops ran down strong cheekbones, while the stranger simply stood there, apparently impervious to the discomfort of being quite that wet. Full lips, collarbones visible against the soaked shirt . . . damn. He reminded Jack of things he couldn’t have and normally managed not to think about. His life was too complicated, too much of a mess to share with anyone.
“Sure,” he found himself saying. What was the question?
“No,” Margaret said at the same time from the back.
Jack caught himself and shrugged a what-can-you-do apology. “That is, we have a corkboard for customers’ messages.” He pointed at the wall on the right, where sheets with rip-off phone numbers vied with other small notes for attention. “I’ll be happy to pin yours up there.”
“I’d appreciate that.” The guy, Mark, wiped his hand on his pants and fished one of the posters out of the plastic bag.
“You look like you could use a towel.”
Surprise flickered across Mark’s face, as if he hadn’t noticed that he was wet. “I don’t mind.”
“You’re soaked, man.”
“It’s not cold.”
Which was true. The clouds had cut the full force of the heat for now, but it was still quite steamy.
“At least wait out the worst of it in here,” Jack tried one last time. For some reason he didn’t want the stranger to leave.
“No,” quoth the raven in the back.
Jack half turned to the open door behind the counter. “C’mon, Margaret. It’s pouring out there.”
Her voice dropped low, though she didn’t have the range to match Mark’s baritone as she quoted him. “‘I don’t mind.’”
“He was being polite.”
“No, I really don’t mind,” Mark said. “The rain doesn’t bother me.”
Jack faced him and took the poster. “Do you sing in the choir, then?” That baritone would be perfect for singing, wouldn’t it?
“Yes.” Matter-of-fact, no embellishments.
He shouldn’t keep the guy. Margaret was waiting for him to lock up so she could get the cashbox from the register and do her tally. The knowledge that she would be fidgeting behind him was like an itch across his shoulders.
“What will you be singing?” Knock it off, Jack, you’re starting to sound desperate.
“Haydn’s ‘Missa in tempore belli.’” Mark pointed to a line below Jack’s thumb. “It’s on the poster.”
“Right.” Say good-bye, Jack.
“At the third stroke it is five past six,” Margaret said in her best Speaking Clock voice.
Jack nodded at the corkboard. “Well, I’ll hang that up for you, then. I hope you don’t have far to walk to your car.”
“I’m not driving.” The way he said it, it was a fact given, an assumption corrected, not a request for a ride. But it made Jack turn back.
“Oh, well, can I give you a lift anywhere?” As soon as he said it, he realized there was no way he could leave.
“No. I like walking.” And then, like an afterthought, “Thank you.”
Jack was too used to Margaret’s matter-of-fact delivery to be bothered by missing thank-yous. But tacked-on like that, like something remembered at the last moment, or learned by heart, struck a chord. He studied the man’s face more closely.
Mark held his gaze for a heartbeat, then looked at the corkboard. “I appreciate the offer,” he said, nodding once into empty space. Then he left and disappeared into the rain as suddenly as he’d shown up.
Behind him, Jack heard Margaret come in and open the old-fashioned cash register.
He locked the door and flipped the sign to the Sorry, we’re closed side. Then he stood and stared at the water sheeting down the glass. Tall, dark, handsome, and mysterious. There was something about Mark that had felt familiar, though, as if he should know the man he’d only just met. He watched Margaret count the money and enter sums into her hand-drawn table with a frown of concentration. Her seriousness plus the fact that the stranger hadn’t cracked a smile once the whole time they’d been talking kicked things around in his mind. Was Mark somewhere on the spectrum as well? Or was Jack starting to make up stories about strangers in his head because he didn’t want the encounter to be over?
If Margaret had had professional help growing up, could she have been more independent today? If he’d found a different solution than dragging her from motel to motel? He wished, not for the first time, that he could offer her better than stopgap help. They’d done their best, him and Mawmaw before him. It hadn’t been enough for his mother. He could only hope that it was enough for his sister.
She was certainly a lot calmer and seemed happier now that they’d settled down. The years on the road had been hell for both of them, but he’d always known that they’d been worse for Margaret, who depended on routines and quiet, safe havens so much more than he did.
He dreamed sometimes that he was a child again, and that Mawmaw was still alive. She’d occasionally sat on the floor behind him when he was small, before Margaret was born, listening to him stumble through the sentences of a book with his finger on the line. He’d be swaddled in her limbs, her chin gently resting on his head—best place in the world.
“You and me, Jack,” she’d say. “We have to be each other’s humanity.”
“Humanity. Beauty of the soul, my sweet. Beauty of the soul.”
He hadn’t understood it then. How lonely she’d been in the middle of that family. He’d learned as he grew up. He understood now.
About G.B. Gordon
G.B.Gordon worked as a packer, landscaper, waiter, and coach before going back to school to major in linguistics and, at 35, switch to less backbreaking monetary pursuits like translating, editing, and writing.
Having lived in various parts of the world, Gordon is now happily ensconced in suburban Ontario with the best of all husbands.Santuario is G.B. Gordon’s first published work, but many more stories are just waiting to hit the keyboard.
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To celebrate the release of Bluewater Blues, one lucky winner will receive $20 in Riptide Publishing credit! Leave a comment with your contact info to enter the contest. Entries close at midnight, Eastern time, on October 22, 2016. Contest is NOT restricted to U.S. entries. Thanks for following the tour, and don’t forget to leave your contact info!