One book that I hold near and dear to my heart is Orientation. If my books were my children, Orientation would be the quiet one, the one people would kindly describe as ‘different.’ Orientation, although it won the EPIC eBook Award for Best GLBT novel, is probably one of my least popular books, because it’s so hard to categorize. Is it a love story? Oh yes. Is it a thriller? Yes. Is it a paranormal adventure? Yes.
It’s all of these things and yet it continues to defy categorization. I like to think of it mostly as a love story because it shows how true love can rise above sexual orientation, time, and even life.
I chose this one from the Backlist Book Bump not only because of my pride in it, but also because, with the holidays upon us, this story has the closest ties to Christmas, as you’ll see from the blurb and excerpts below.
ORIENTATION by Rick R. Reed
Release Date: May 13, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-60272-260-6 (Electronic) 978-1-60272-937-7 (Paperback)
Publisher: Amber Allure
Christmas, 1983: A young man, Robert, tends to his soul mate, Keith, who is dying from AIDS. Robert tries valiantly to make this a special Christmas for his lover, but loses the fight late Christmas night.
Christmas, 2007: Robert ventures out late Christmas night and finds a young girl about to fling herself into the unforgiving waters of Lake Michigan. He rescues her, and the two form a bond forged from an odd feeling they share of familiarity, and even love. Neither understands it, since Jess is a lesbian and Robert has never been attracted to women. But there’s more…Jess begins having strange dreams, reliving key moments she couldn’t know about in Keith and Robert’s life and courtship. Robert and Jess begin to wonder if their inexplicable feelings might be rooted in something much more mystical than a savior/victim relationship.
As the two move toward and pull away from each other, Ethan, Robert’s younger lover, plots the unthinkable. His crystal meth-addled mind becomes convinced there’s only one way to save himself, and that is through Robert’s destruction. Christmas 2007 spirals downward to a shattering climax in which both love and lives hang in the balance.
There’s a murder attempt…salvation…redemption…
And a new love is born.
It was Christmas, 1983. Robert looked outside the bedroom window. Snow was beginning to fall on Lake Michigan; the gray churning waters eating it up as fast as the sky could make it. Below, the traffic on Lake Shore Drive was spare: no commuters hurrying to work this holiday morn; Robert supposed the only people on the road were families on their way to grandma’s house and the unfortunate souls just now returning to their own homes from Christmas Eve revelry. Lake Michigan roiled near the shoreline with huge blocks of ice.
Robert pushed open the sliding glass doors to the balcony and a blast of frigid air hit him. Earlier, the radio had said something about the day being the coldest on record, with a temperature of 12 below, and wind chills much lower than that. But he needed to slip away for just a few minutes, needed to escape the heat set to the mid 80s inside because his lover Keith could not stop shivering, needed to get away from the constant babbling of the TV, tuned to MTV for Keith, and the endless rotation of songs from Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
Most of all, he needed to escape from Keith, who was dying. Robert breathed in and tried not to think about a handsome man, in his prime just a few months ago, now wasting away to a skeletal wraith, and tried to concentrate instead on the crackling in his near frozen nostrils and how the icy air was traveling to his lungs, invigorating, uncomfortable, and terrifying all at once.
Robert was tired. He had spent the whole week getting their penthouse apartment ready for the holiday, in spite of the fact that Keith was unconscious most of the time and when awake, babbled, moving from non sequiter to non sequiter. It hurt Robert that often he didn’t even know who Robert was. And this from a man, who, just a few months ago, had told Robert he was “the one” and that he had no doubt he would spend the rest of his life with him, a promise that was coming true more quickly than either of them could have guessed. But Robert soldiered on, determined to infuse their luxurious home with Christmas spirit, in deep denial of the fact that same Christmas spirit was playing a serious game of hide-and-seek (and winning) and ignoring the fact that his lover was wasting away due to a disease they were just getting around to calling AIDS (although Robert wasn’t even sure their president could be brought to utter the acronym). Robert had called Marshall Fields, explained that he was housebound with a sick “roommate” and could they deliver an assortment of lights and decorations, enough to fill a four-bedroom penthouse with merriment. At first, the sales clerk he got on the phone was hesitant, but sympathetic, explaining how the holiday rush would make the kind of deliveries Robert requested impossible. But when they heard money was no object, Marshall Fields was more than happy to comply, even arranging for next-day delivery of designer ornaments and strands upon strands of tiny white lights. He had talked to the doorman downstairs and had convinced him to send up one of the maintenance men to string the lights all across their balcony outside and, inside, on the three Christmas trees he had had delivered from a lot on Belmont Avenue. Robert snorted as he remembered how he had paid more for their delivery than for the trees themselves. He had made a mix tape of their favorite versions of the holiday classics: Peggy Lee singing “The Christmas Waltz,” Nat King Cole, “The Christmas Song,” Ella Fitzgerald on “The First Noel,” Les Brown and his Band of Renown doing their version of “The Nutcracker Suite.” He couldn’t bear to let Guy Lombardo’s “Auld Lang Syne” play, though. It made Robert cry.
And Christmas, damn it, was not a time for tears.
He had baked cookies, filling the apartment with the scent of anise from the pizzelles his Mother used to make back in Summitville, PA. He had wrapped tons of presents for Keith: sweaters from I Magnin, toys from FAO Schwartz, books and music from Rizzoli.
But Keith had noticed none of it, and hadn’t had the energy to open even one of his presents. Robert had unwrapped them for him, holding each up to his lover’s sleeping face, his wheezing, gaspy breaths giving a kind of thanks. At least that’s what Robert told himself. He had even gotten tickets to the big thing in New York, a play called Torch Song Trilogy. He whispered in Keith’s ear that they would go when “he got better” even though Robert knew he never would. But it didn’t stop him from imagining them in a darkened theater, looking over at Keith to gauge his reaction to something happening on stage. Keith could cry at things like Kodak commercials and Robert imagined him handsome once more, his face lit softly from the stage, with tears rolling down his cheeks. He would return Robert’s gaze, smiling sheepishly, and brushing the tears away. Keith’s sensitivity was a big part of what made Robert love him so much.
1983 had been a hard and wonderful year. Robert had met Keith in a bar called Touché just before New Year’s Eve, 1982 and had never expected the one-night stand between the butch leather daddy and the boy fresh from Slippery Rock State College to go any further than that one night. Robert had liked the grizzled good looks of Keith (thick salt and pepper hair, chiseled jaw line with a Kirk Douglas cleft, and the body of a Schwarzenegger). He imagined running his fingers through the coarse mat of hair on his chest and couldn’t look away from how that same chest was so gorgeously framed by his leather vest. Keith had also worn chaps and tight, faded Levis. Robert had jeans and an Izod shirt on, with Adidas running shoes. He was surprised he had even been admitted to the smoky leather bar, notorious for its backroom antics, but he supposed his youth, blue eyes, and blond hair had convinced the doorman to ignore the leather dress code. Or maybe—more likely—the doorman chuckled as Robert entered the bar, which smelled strongly of sweat, cigarettes, and stale beer, because he felt like he was throwing a Christian to the lions.
They had awakened the next morning in each other’s arms…and Robert had moved in that same week, saying a quick goodbye to his roommate in Rogers Park and throwing a Chiquita banana box filled with books and two suitcases into the back of Keith’s Jaguar.
Somehow it had worked, despite the fact that Robert was only 22 and Keith double that. Their honeymoon had continued throughout the spring and even partially into the summer. Robert quickly adapted to taking care of the penthouse apartment, even quitting his job as an indexer for Encyclopedia Britannica to make sure the two story home overlooking Lincoln Park and Lake Michigan was always spotless. He sharpened his culinary skills and took a course in French cooking. Although there was little need for that because Keith’s favorite foods were all decidedly comfort: macaroni and cheese, meatloaf, roasted chicken, soups, and stews. When Robert made his mother’s Sicilian spaghetti sauce with meatballs and pork spare ribs, Keith could never get enough of it, even though Robert told him that Sunday was the day for pasta. They had eaten well and made love through the winter and into Chicago’s damp and dreary spring. Not right away, but eventually Keith revealed the secret of his wealth and his copious free time: he was a writer of a series of young adult novels that had a teenage witch as their heroine. Adolescent girls would line up when a new edition was delivered to a bookstore, none of them even aware that J.M. Darling was a middle-aged man. He and his publisher had built a fictional life for J.M. and she was a young woman just out of Yale, who had made it big in spite of her orphanage background. The books—and all their translations, different editions, film rights, and more—kept them free from financial worries. Luxuries were never in short supply. Keith turned the books out easily, which left them a lot of time for play. It was almost as magical as the life of his teenage heroine, Heather Marshall. Robert hardly noticed the difference in their ages. It was nothing for them to spend long weekends jetting off to Keith’s favorite places: New Orleans, Key West, and Portland here in the States, or even more extravagant trips on the Concorde to Paris.
The summer was when things turned dark. Like a summer storm, the plague crept up on them with low, almost imperceptible rumblings and flashes of dull light.
ORIENTATION BUY LINKS
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Rick R. Reed Biography and Contact
Rick R. Reed is all about exploring the romantic entanglements of gay men in contemporary, realistic settings. While his stories often contain elements of suspense, mystery and the paranormal, his focus ultimately returns to the power of love. He is the author of dozens of published novels, novellas, and short stories. He is a three-time EPIC eBook Award winner (for Caregiver, Orientation and The Blue Moon Cafe). Lambda Literary Review has called him, “a writer that doesn’t disappoint.” Rick lives in Seattle with his husband and a very spoiled Boston terrier. He is forever “at work on another novel.”
Visit Rick’s website at http://www.rickrreed.com or follow his blog at http://rickrreedreality.blogspot.com/. You can also like Rick on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/rickrreedbooks or on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/rickrreed. Rick always enjoys hearing from readers and answers all e-mails personally. Send him a message at firstname.lastname@example.org
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