Available: Riptide Publishing
Lost: one dog and two men in need of each other. Found: love.
RV resort security chief Ringo never believed in love at first sight. . .until he saw Gavin playing his sax on the beach for the tourists. But their on-again, off-again affair—even counting all the great makeup sex—doesn’t come close to the relationship he wants. All he really wants for Christmas is a commitment from Gavin.
Instead he discovers that Gavin has had surgery without telling him, so he lays down a relationship ultimatum while Gavin recuperates. Complicating matters even more, Gavin's beloved dog Bird runs away, and Gavin Blames Ringo for the disappearance
While Ringo throws every resource he has into finding Bird, he learns deeper truths about Gavin—how hard it is for him to trust and how little faith he has in love. Maybe if Ringo can find Bird, he can salvage Gavin’s faith. Maybe this Christmas, they can all find each other.
Publisher’s Note: 20% of all proceeds from this title are donated to the Ali Forney Center in New York, whose mission “is to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning (LGBTQ) youth from the harm of homelessness, and to support them in becoming safe and independent as they move from adolescence to adulthood.”
To learn more about this charity or to donate directly, please visit www.aliforneycenter.org.
Ringo had knocked on Gavin’s door plenty of times. This time he had his heart in his throat. He could feel the cold chill of trouble coming same as he could feel the thunderheads that gathered out over the ocean, ready to pound the Newport Sands Resort with relentless rain.
Strings of Christmas icicles fluttered in the breeze along the edge of the RV’s awning. At night, they were pretty, but right now, in the weak afternoon light, they were cheap bits of dirty plastic Gavin kept up all year round.
He knocked again. “Gavin, it’s me, Ringo. Open up.”
After a minute or so, the flimsy metal door opened a crack. “What do you want?”
“Bird? He’s inside.” Gavin opened the door the rest of the way, but didn’t come down the steps.
“He wasn’t inside an hour ago when he ran into someone’s RV after their cat.” Ringo shook his head. “Goddamn it, how many times do I have to tell you? You can’t just let that dog out to wander around.”
Irritation played over Gavin’s features. “What’s your damage, Ringo? So he pees on the grass. If he shits, I’m sorry. I’ll pick up some other dog’s shit sometime, as penance.”
Ringo folded his arms across his chest. “Some lady from the As said Bird scared her grandkids. She was hysterical.”
“Oh, well. If she’s from the As then—”
“Aw, Gav. Cut me some slack here, will you?” Ringo leaned in. He wasn’t above pleading a little. Gavin had more than once insinuated that the resort had different rules for people with better rigs or bigger wallets, which was bullshit. Everyone had to behave like they paid for a spot in the As. Ringo didn’t ride Gavin for half the shit Bird got up to, but he was forced to respond when Bird caused a mess. “This isn’t a trailer park, it’s the Newport Sands Resort. These RVs are multimillion-dollar land yachts and the people expect to be able to open their doors without your dog charging inside. If Bird leaves this rig, you have to go with him. You take him out on his leash from now on, or you keep him in.”
“Sir. Yes, sir.” Gavin saluted smartly. “No letting Bird out off leash.”
“It’s nothing personal. Management gets on me if they think I’m not doing my job—and they won’t hesitate to have your ass and your rig hauled out of here.”
“You couldn’t just leave the form letter I normally get when someone from your security team sees Bird off leash?”
Ringo was too embarrassed to meet Gavin’s eyes. “Don’t you just throw those away?”
“But nothing personal, right?”
Christ, there was everything personal between them. Ringo felt it in his gut and his heart and his empty goddamn bed. They hadn’t spoken in over a month and he’d missed Gavin every single day. But that’s not why he was here today. “No. Nothing personal.”
“If that’s all then, I’ll just haul my ass into my rig and—”
“Look.” Ringo raked a hand over his buzzed hair. “I don’t know why you gotta be like this. You never heard anyone say, ‘You can’t fight city hall’?”
“I hardly ever let Bird run, only when it’s absolutely necessary. And with it being Christmas, the park is half-empty anyway. You know people only say that city hall shit when the government is taking advantage.”
“You signed the lease. You know the rules. How is asking you to walk your own dog taking advantage?”
“Never mind. Message received and noted.”
Ringo sighed. “Why should the rest of us deal with Bird if you’re too fucking lazy to do it? While you’re wallowing, he’s scaring off the tourists.”
“Is that what you think?” Gavin eyed him sourly. “I’m wallowing?”
“I think you need to walk your dog on a leash, like everyone else around here. What if you let Bird out and he eats something bad? Even a lick of antifreeze could kill him. What if he gets into a fight with another dog? You need to think what your neglect could cost Bird, too.”
Ringo was about to turn away and leave when Gavin reached out and caught his arm. “Wait.”
“What?” Ringo took a step up toward Gavin. Even with another step between them, he was taller, especially since Gavin had a way of slouching lazily against his doorframe. His posture now was relaxed, and yet closed off. Typical.
Gavin sighed. “I did let him go out alone this morning. I couldn’t take him, so—”
“What do you mean, you couldn’t take him?” Ringo looked Gavin over closely and realized he didn’t just look tired, he appeared to be in pain.
Gavin grimaced. “Look, it’s nothing. Right now, I can’t take him out, is all.”
“Wait. What?” Ringo asked. “Did something happen? Are you sick?”
“No, I’m not sick. I finally had to have my knee repaired. I stepped in a hole on the beach the other day and tore it again. The doc said I didn’t have a choice anymore.” Gavin looked anywhere except into Ringo’s eyes. “I figured I had some time off between Christmas and New Year’s, might as well get it taken care of. But I just got home, and it’s been tougher than I thought, and I—”
“Jeez.” That’s why Ringo had seen Gavin come home in a cab the day before. Christ. Alone and hurting and you still won’t ask anyone for shit. “You couldn’t have told me that?”
“Why should I?”
“Because I’d have helped you. I’d have taken Bird out for you, for one. At least I can ask one of the interns—”
“I had that Jules kid take care of Bird yesterday, but I thought—” Gavin chewed his lower lip “—I don’t know what I thought.”
“Jules is a good kid, but he’s gone home until after New Year’s. Do you want me to see if I can get a couple of the other kids to take shifts? They can walk Bird until you’re well enough to do it yourself.”
Gavin gave a reluctant nod. “I’d appreciate that.”
Ringo sighed. “Goddamn it, Gavin. I’m only a phone call away. We’re not seeing each other anymore, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ask me for help if you need it.”
“I don’t know why you’re surprised I didn’t. We didn’t work out because you always tell me I don’t ask for enough.”
Ringo frowned at him. “I thought it was because I wanted to give you too much.”
They stood nearly nose to nose. Ringo could smell the warm, smoky campfire scent of Gavin’s skin, could feel desire building between them, even from that brief contact. But he couldn’t make Gavin meet his gaze.
He sighed. “I didn’t come here to autopsy us.”
“Not much left to dissect, is there?” Gavin wrapped his arms around himself. Maybe he was cold, and maybe he needed holding. Ringo had a lousy habit of wondering what Gavin needed, as opposed to just giving him what he asked for, and Gavin hated it.
God, Ringo wanted to hold him. He wanted to wrap himself around Gavin and never let go. How did everything between them always go to shit?
Instead, Ringo said, “Go back inside, you look like hell. I’ll ask around, or I’ll come back and walk Bird myself.”
“Don’t get your panties in a wad. Everybody has to learn to ask for help, just like every so often people ought to seek out someone who needs help and give it. It takes your mind off shit to look outside yourself for a change.”
Gavin snorted. “The Gospel According to St. Ringo.”
“Right.” A gentle tease, instead of Gavin’s customary porcupine spines. That was better. “Yeah. Well. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.”
“I’ve tried it.”
Ringo ignored that. “I’ll be back later. I’m assuming you have pain meds. What about food?”
“I’m going to infuriate you by checking on you every so often, and I’m going to do it with hot meals. Just warning you ahead of time.”
“Ringo, don’t make this a big deal.” Gavin started back inside.
“Gav—” Ringo reached for him, but he jerked away. “Don’t make me pull information out of you like this. I need to know. Please, if you need me, call me.”
“And then what?”
Ringo shifted his weight from his right leg to his left. “What do you mean, and then what?”
“What would happen if I needed something?”
“I’d get you what you need. What do you mean what would happen?”
“What if I need to be left alone?”
“Do you really need to be left alone?” Ringo asked. “’Cause the Gavin who plays his sax at midnight because he knows I’ll have to come and tell him to knock it off loves my company. It’s the Gavin who pushes me out of his bed before dawn the next morning and tells me I’m—”
“Smothering,” Gavin snapped. “Hovering. Blocking the exits and taking up all my space.”
God, Ringo’s shoulders ached. “Just tell me what you need, Gav. What can I do for you?”
“Nothing. I’ll be fine.”
“Sure you will.” Ringo sighed. “I’ll see you later.”
Gavin lobbed him his slow-pitch softball smile, round and a little wobbly. Ringo guessed that was the best he was going to get. “See you.”
“Yeah.” Ringo nodded.
Ringo wished Gavin would say more, like he was looking forward to it, or he’d be glad for the company—something Ringo knew was true, even if Gavin would rather die than admit it—but if he waited for that, he’d stand there forever.
Instead, Ringo got in his golf cart and took off because it never paid to give Gavin even the gentlest squeeze. If Ringo squeezed, Gavin would slip through his fingers like a bar of soap, and they’d end up back at square one.
What do they mean by square one, anyway? Was that a reference to a game or the first stone on a path? The first bubble on the SATs or the first letter they turn on Wheel of Fortune?
Ringo’s square one was the very first time he’d seen Gavin playing saxophone for the summer crowd at the picnic tables. He’d looked like a young Carlos Santana in shades, with a mustache and a highly kissable soul patch. He’d worn a weathered fedora.
Gavin always wore a hat, but that was mostly because his hairline was receding. Ringo went along when Gavin pretended his hats were some kind of fashion statement. They were that too, from skull caps to stingy-brimmed straw fedoras to out-and-out wool felt mafioso lids, but Gavin kept his hair buzzed short and his head covered because he was vain about going bald.
The first time Ringo had seen him, he’d thought Gavin had stepped right out of the movies.
Central casting, get me a Latino street musician.
Ringo drove back toward his office, five miles per hour, waving at the tourists. Trying to look strong and silent. Reassuring, as if he were “the law” in this here town.
As if he were doing something besides pining for a guy who didn’t want him around.
His sister had warned him musicians were dogs, but Ringo had never listened.
God knew, Gavin was a musician. To paraphrase Ringo’s mother’s favorite poem, music was the thing with strings that perched in Gavin’s soul. Wherever Gavin went, he had to blow his horn or pick at his guitar or drum on the park benches and the trashcans with chopsticks. He bought instruments whenever he could, and he always had a half a dozen or so on his patio undergoing repairs. He was constantly tinkering with some broken guitar or refurbishing a brass instrument that needed a little TLC. He sold some on eBay, and some he got attached to.
What he couldn’t live without one day, he gave away the next.
Ringo stopped to bag up some garbage that had blown off a picnic table, and even that reminded him of Gavin: give Gavin a milk carton, a plastic fork, and a couple of rubber bands, and you’d get an entire symphony orchestra.
Gavin had warm golden skin and cold brown eyes, and he lived in a crappy camper because it made him feel free. He didn’t have to live like that; he liked it.
He drank too much, and he laughed too loud, and when Ringo got near the cracks in the shell Gavin had built around himself, Gavin chased him away like a junkyard dog. Gavin had a miserable fucking temper. He could lash out.
It hurt a lot to love a man like that.
Especially when Gavin was always the center of attention and could pick and choose from any man around. He never kept any of his lovers for long; he didn’t know how. He always seemed lonely to Ringo, even if he was rarely alone.
Ringo had pried his way into Gavin’s life through persistence and the judicious application of alcohol, and although they’d washed out, they still kept company sometimes. Lots of times.
Ringo always said that if he had it to do over again, he’d do it over again.
He pitched the trash he’d policed into the Dumpster as he rode by. Hole in one.
That was probably his entire quota of “win” for the day, the rest of which would be spent filing incident reports and making sense of client complaints. He was responsible for lost or stolens, and there was one case of employee pilfering at the snack bar to deal with.
When he got back to the office, he shut himself inside for the better part of the morning, until a knock sounded at his door.
Jurgen, one of the interns, a college kid from Germany, entered and stood nervously in front of Ringo’s desk.
“You wanted to see me, sir?”
Ringo took off his reading glasses and rubbed his eyes. He was only thirty, but he couldn’t read without glasses for shit. It made him wonder if he was going to be like his nana, with her bottle-bottom trifocals, when he got old.
“You know the guy who lives in the Cs over by the laundry room, Gavin Lopez?”
“The musician?” Jurgen nodded. “Is there a problem?”
“Little bit. He’s out of commission for a few days because he had to have some knee surgery. Would you mind walking his dog? I’ll pay you, but don’t tell him I said anything about money.”
“I can do that.” The kid spoke English well, with little to no accent, and he was respectful and polite. The smile he gave Ringo was unforced.
“Maybe if you went first thing when you get to work, at lunch, and before you leave?”
“Sure.” Jurgen gave another bob of his head.
“The dog’s name is Bird. Let him run in the fenced off-leash area by the volleyball courts while you’re at lunch. Otherwise keep him on a leash at all times. Give him some exercise; he’s an energetic, curious pooch, so if he gets loose he’s likely to wander into people’s rigs.”
Jurgen smiled wryly. “I can see how that might create concerns.”
“I’ll let you know when to stop—just a few days probably. You’ll be here over the holidays, right?”
“Yes, I’ll be here. Is that all?”
“Yes, thank you.”
Once dismissed, Jurgen left. Ringo wondered what his story was, if he was studying for a career in hospitality, or if he just wanted to work in America for a while. The resort always had foreign interns as part of an exchange program with the local university. Whether they had aspirations to stay in the States, or just wanted a chance to work where they could surf and go to Disneyland and tour the beaches where Baywatch had been filmed, they came and went.
Jurgen seemed like a nice kid. He’d be good for Bird, and maybe Bird would be good for him.
When Ringo made his rounds later, he saw Jurgen and Bird on the beach together, Jurgen running along the water and Bird bounding happily along beside him in puppylike high spirits when he wasn’t busy chasing after sea birds. The sight warmed Ringo’s heart. A boy and a dog could be a beautiful thing.
He watched Jurgen play tug of war with Bird for a while, and then he continued on his rounds, making sure everyone was in their proper space. He liked to greet the campers and check in with the groundskeepers. He needed to make sure the empty cabins were locked up tight.
Since the economy was still in the shitter and the price of gas was at an all-time high, some of the resorts streets echoed with emptiness. The holidays hadn’t brought crowds to the resort the way they usually did, but they still had the die-hard snowbirds.
The size of the population didn’t matter, though. He had to keep security tight, and his crew had to stay dialed in to any potential problems so they could prevent mishaps or react quickly if they were needed.
A case of illegally dumped trash was the most he had to deal with before he sat down at his desk again after lunch to write up incident reports. His security detail for the day, Gunn and Frisbo, patrolled the grounds together while he caught up on paperwork.
Most days, their lives revolved around a series of small, inconsequential matters and the paperwork that went with them.
Most days were dead boring, but it went with the job.
Yessir, I am the sheriff in this here town. Evildoers, beware.
Ringo watched as the sun dropped below the western horizon. All his minor irritations seemed to disappear with it.
Winter was his favorite season at the resort. Holiday lights brightened the darkness, shimmering in the algae-laden water like sunken treasure. Several of the fancier rigs were overdressed for the occasion, as tacky as they were festive, with mirror balls and singing Christmas trees.
Summers were crowded with people who drank too much. There were way too many small kids to watch out for. Summer gave Ringo ulcers. But in December the weather was mild and color scintillated everywhere, from the bright orange of fires on the beach, to the rigs, to the sparkling trunks of majestic palms wrapped halfway up with twinkle lights.
The glittered reflection of all that luminescence shivered on the water—balm to Ringo’s soul.
Ringo pulled his golf cart up next to Gavin’s place. He was sitting on a canvas lawn chair with one leg propped up, playing Christmas music on a ukulele. He had a good fire going in a black iron fire bowl with Kokopelli cutouts. Bird lay by his side, his muzzle draped contentedly over Gavin’s bare foot.
Ringo thought he’d probably lie down like that with his face on Gavin’s foot if Gavin would let him.
Gavin caught sight of him and lifted his chin. That was all the welcome Ringo was going to get, so he made the most of it. He got out of his cart and stepped onto Gavin’s woven hemp patio rug. He gave Gavin a light kiss on the top of his head in lieu of a greeting.
Gavin broke off playing to pick up his beer and take a swallow, then put it down to play some more. Ringo recognized “Winter Wonderland.”
“I brought you In-N-Out.” Ringo headed toward the door of Gavin’s RV. “Mind if I go in and get some plates and things?”
“Make yourself homely.” Gavin shifted slowly in his chair and grimaced with pain. “Help yourself to a brew while you’re in there.”
Gavin had a bag of peas cooling his knee. “You hurting?”
“Yeah.” Gavin shrugged. “I got pills, though.”
“Peas still cold?”
“I have another bag, maybe you could switch them since you’re going in . . .?”
“Sure.” Ringo plucked the bag off him. The knee itself didn’t look too bad from the outside. A little swelling, a little bruising. He probably had a couple of small incisions under the Band-Aids. Ringo went inside Gavin’s RV and got a fresh bag of peas from the freezer. He didn’t think he’d ever seen Gavin eat a pea. He must have kept them just for their medicinal benefit. While he was in there, he put their burgers and fries on paper plates and got himself a beer.
When he returned, he sat down in a camp chair opposite Gavin’s. Sure as shit, the smoke turned direction and headed his way. He waved and blinked his eyes. “Why does that always happen? No matter where I’m sitting, I get smoke in my face.”
“Smoke seeks out the pretty boys.” Gavin followed that up with a musical rimshot—bah dum bump—on his ukulele.
Ringo rolled his eyes. “So, you had arthroscopic surgery?”
“Yeah. I tore the meniscus. I got a video of the surgery if you want to watch it sometime. It looks like a tiny dragon is tearing off bits of cotton candy in the dark.”
“I’ll pass.” Ringo wasn’t much into that sort of thing. He’d seen all the blood and gore he’d needed to see in the Army. “Should you be drinking that if you’re taking pills?”
Gavin slanted an irritated look at him. “I only had one beer, mami. I’m fine.”
Ringo twisted the cap off his beer. “I like you better when you call me papi.”
Gavin narrowed his eyes at that. “So act like a man instead of smothering me.”
Ringo itched to twist Gavin’s neck. Why did Gavin always have to give him attitude when he was only checking in to make sure everything was okay? Gavin’d had surgery, for Christ’s sake. Why couldn’t Gavin tell him when things weren’t okay?
“You got plenty to eat for snacks and something to drink besides beer?”
“For today.” Gavin looked away. “But I could use some stuff.”
That’s new. Was Gavin asking for help with something? Had the world come to an end and nobody told Ringo? “Like what? I can make a list.”
“I need some first aid shit. Mine’s so old it’s moldy. I think it came with the rig.”
“Like bandages and antibacterial ointment?”
“What else? Bottled water? Coffee? Pop? Those cookies you like with the peanut butter?”
Gavin shot him a genuine smile. “You remember that?”
“Yeah.” Ringo felt his cheeks heat up. “I remember. Soft oatmeal with raisins too. You don’t like chocolate chip like normal people.”
“I like chocolate chip.”
“But they don’t make your eyes light up,” Ringo murmured.
Gavin sighed, and his fingers drifted into another song, this one in a minor key so it sounded a little sad.
Ringo shook his head and sat back. Gavin was right there in front of him. Was he feeling lonely? On more than one occasion, he’d used the intel Gavin’s restless musicality sent out and they’d ended up making out or in the sack, despite the fact that they weren’t together anymore.
Ringo generally acted on Gavin’s haunted, lonely music, not on his words, until one or the other of them burst the magic spell he’d woven.
Usually it was Ringo who messed up, and Gavin who chased him away.
Just now, Gavin was more than a little high. If Ringo pushed things, if he approached Gavin like Bird did—like he had a right to Gavin’s affection, or like he was just too dumb to know he wasn’t always so welcome—he’d be allowed to stay the night.
It might be worth it, just to see if he could make Gavin smile for a while.
“You should eat,” he said instead.
If Gavin was frozen inside his melancholy, then Ringo was caught in the web of his macho. He didn’t want to crawl on his knees and beg to be petted like a dog. He wanted Gavin to want him. To ask for what he wanted out loud with his words instead of his goddamn music.