Hi, everyone! Short message today, but worth it.
Dragon Fire was reviewed by Whipped Cream Reviews. Yay!
Be good to each other today.
Hi, everyone! Short message today, but worth it.
Dragon Fire was reviewed by Whipped Cream Reviews. Yay!
Be good to each other today.
04.14.12 Mark will be down in a minute, but I need to take a breath and write this down in case I forget next year.
Spending time with my Mark is the most important thing. Whether it’s been hours, days, or months since we’ve seen each other, sharing moments like early this morning are what life should be.
Luke laid his pen aside and frowned down at his journal. Like this morning. I need to put a reminder in here. He closed his eyes, drew his magic into himself for a moment as he formed a mental picture, and touched the page. An image, crisper than a digital photograph, appeared below his final sentence. Mark stood at their bedroom door, managing to balance a breakfast tray in each hand. Panic tightened his features because one of the glasses of juice had started to slide.
The genie chuckled. “There. I won’t forget now.” He closed his journal.
:What are you smirking at?” Mark slouched in the doorway to the living room. “Is there something I need to know?”
Luke poofed his last gift into his hands. “Yes. Two things. One: today was perfect. Two: I love you.”
Mark shook his head, but a faint blush colored his cheeks as he crossed to the menorah and began lighting the candles. “I love you too. Are you going first or am I?”
“My turn was supposed to be yesterday, so…” Luke waited until Mark shook out the match. “Besides, I have to show you part of the gift before I can give it.” He sat on the floor, pulling Mark down with him. Gently, he encouraged his lover to draw his knees to his chest.
“You asked me about signs of my faith,” he murmured when he had Mark nestled in the cradle of his arms.
Mark relaxed, resting his head against Luke’s shoulder and closing his eyes. “I remember. Does this mean you rest in the arms of the One-Who-Decides?”
“Not quite. When I think of how much you trust me to hold and support you, not just to protect you but to do you no harm when you’re in this vulnerable position, that’s become a sign of faith.”
Mark opened his beautiful blue eyes. “You’re kidding. Luke, I can’t help how being in your arms makes me feel.”
“Does that change your faith in me?”
The dragon shook his head. “No.” He smiled slightly. “Not at all.”
Luke held up the figurine he’d made. “I wanted you to have the symbol of my faith in us.” He felt himself turning scarlet. “I don’t mean to sound like a cliché, but — ”
“But sometimes clichés are around for a reason.” Mark kissed him. “Now let me up. This will go perfectly with my gift. You’ll have to give me a minute, though.” When he was on his feet, he took Luke’s newest gift and disappeared into the kitchen. “Stay there. If you peek, I’ll roast you.”
Great. Now I have to unwrap and re-wrap this thing. Sighing, Mark stripped off the flawless wrapping job Jodie had accomplished, tucked Luke’s final gift into an excellent place, and tried to put the wrapping back together.
Hopeless. I must have ripped it in just the wrong way. He cursed silently as he fumbled for tape and snagged that morning’s newspaper off the counter. When he was done, the deformed shape looked like a nuclear accident instead of a box. At least Luke won’t be able to tell what it is before opening it.
Mark walked back into the living room. Luke was smirking again. “Quit that.”
“I’ll give you issues.”
Luke waggled his eyebrows. “I can’t wait. But let’s have this… um… whatever it is first.”
“Be very careful with it. It’s fragile. Well, the stuff it’s holding is fragile.” Stop talking before you give it away, Tavery!
Luke tugged at the paper slowly. “It’s thin and long. Is it a picture frame?”
“Your free guessing period ended last night.”
“So that’s not a ‘no.’”
“No, it’s not a picture frame.”
“Is it a picture of us, or just of my beautiful lover, in a picture frame?”
“No fair guessing two things at once!”
Luke tore off a long strip near one edge. “It’s looking more and more like a frame, Mark.”
“It’s not a frame.” Or is that what you call something that holds little pieces of artwork?
Luke freed a top corner and, with that bit of paper still in hand, managed to tear away the paper covering the front of the gift. He didn’t move.
Is he disappointed? Mark bit his lip. “It’s… I wanted to show you how much your presents mean to me. How much you mean to me. I didn’t want them to get damaged. So I found this… this…”
“Oh Mark. It’s beautiful. It’s going to show anyone and everyone who walks into our home just how much you love me.” Luke set the gift on the coffee table.
It’s called a shadowbox. And he loves it. Mark grinned.
“More than that,” Luke said, “it’s…” He laughed and pulled Mark in for a deep kiss. “It’s from you, so it’s perfect.”
Candle Seven (Part 2)
Mark made a shape in the air. “I need a box. Kind of like this one.” He gestured to the cardboard box carrying Luke’s gifts. “Made of wood. Or glass. Or even metal, I guess, as long as it’s beautiful.” Wrong word, Tavery. “I mean elegant.”
Jodie gave him the strangest look. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Neither do I.” He pointed at the compartments in the cardboard box. “See these? I’d like the box I get to have these if possible. I want to showcase Luke’s gifts so they won’t get broken.”
“You’re talking about a curio cabinet.”
She understands. Thank God. Or He nodded. “Where can I get one?”
“There are a couple of great furniture stores over in St. Pete, but I’d honestly suggest — ”
“Furniture? How big is a curious cabinet?”
“Curio. They can be six feet tall.”
Mark closed his eyes. “Jodie, I just need a little box like…” He turned, scanning for something in her shop to compare with the vague image in his head. He spied a dark piece of wood tucked edgewise onto a high shelf. Probably it wasn’t quite what he wanted, but it might give her a better idea.
Now if I can just reach it. When he stood below the object, Mark stretched up, wishing for his eight feet of dragon height. Come on, come on…
He hooked the object just under the dark piece of wood. Both items tumbled off the shelf. He leaped back, managing to catch them both without getting more than a shower of dust for his trouble. The object he’d grabbed was a rumpled plastic tablecloth. But the dark wooden edge he’d seen was actually a rectangle, shallow in depth. The wood glowed like dark chocolate held over a flame.
The box sported shelves instead of individual compartments.
Mark grinned, and then sneezed. “Jodie? I want this.”
Luke finished setting up the last candle just as Mark pulled into the driveway. Wherever his lover had been, he’d done more than run because he was carrying a wrapped package carefully in both hands, balancing it like a tray. Mark’s eyes glowed with anticipation. Apparently, even though this was Luke’s giving day, he’d decided to give something himself. That was just fine because if the gifts ended today they could get down to the real joys they’d been missing out on.
The joys I saw him begging for when he came up out of the water. The joys I promised we were going to start having by the hundreds.
Luke opened the door for his lover.
Mark’s eyes were sapphires. He brushed his lips down Luke’s jaw, giving the genie just a hint of teeth. “I know it’s your day, but I couldn’t help myself.”
“I don’t mind.” Once Mark was inside, Luke closed the door. Then he watched his lover take in the score of unlit candles.
Mark paused in the doorway to the living room for a moment. Then he glanced at Luke and smiled. “Romantic setting. I love it.” He laid his gift on the couch. “Dance with me?”
“After I light the candles.”
Mark glanced toward the window. “It will be sunset in a few minutes. Light everything but the menorah, then come dance with me.”
Luke snapped his fingers for the show of the thing, lighting nearly all the wicks at once, leaving only the menorah alone. The soft glow of so many tiny fires brought out all the subtle tones in his lover’s hair and skin; Luke stood fro a moment, simply gazing. Then he recreated the tango he’d fallen in love with a century ago, and the sultry notes wove themselves through the room.
Mark raised his eyebrows. “Is this going to become our tango?”
Was this the music they’d danced to in that hotel room back in May? Luke blushed as he guided Mark into the dance. “I forgot which tango I’d played for you.”
Mark kissed him, interrupting the steps. “This one is ours now.” He grinned as they caught up with the music. “Although I might not let you lead forever.”
My Mark. Luke ruined the steps as he pulled his lover tight against him.
Half past midnight, Mark laid his head on Luke’s chest and closed his eyes. “All the candles are out?” He yawned, smiling when Luke stroked his bangs away from his forehead.
“Yes. Go to sleep, my Mark. You were asleep on your feet down there.”
Not quite true. He’d been half asleep in Luke’s arms on the couch after they’d made love for the second time. Mark let the comment stand. “I forgot to light the menorah again.”
“And we forgot to exchange gifts. So what? I received exactly what I wanted tonight. Did you?”
The dragon yawned again. He couldn’t keep his eyes open anymore. “Yup.” He nestled closer. “Night, Luke.” He was gifted a little more energy and he exploited it. “You’re going to love my present. It’s hard, elegant, and holds a great treasure.”
“What is it?”
“If you guess correctly, I’ll say yes.” Not that I know what it’s called.
He fell asleep listening to Luke’s guesses.
Dear Readers: Note to self (and to give you a tiny glimpse into my mind) don’t try to write a serial story while moving from one state to another. The good news is that Candle Seven is so long that it’s coming in two parts, and both Candle Seven (Part 2) and Candle Eight should be up by tomorrow, barring any further catastrophes.
04.13.12 I’ve worked on the small sculpture while Mark slept. That’s four nights, about seven hours each night, except the night he was tossing and turning, and even then he asked me to give him a little space. So I sat downstairs and worked while he paced, keeping one ear open the whole time. Now here I am on the last day with my sculpture finished, but with one small problem left. How do I paint it?
Painting is NOT my strength, and painting the clay figurines will take a skilled, steady hand.
I could use magic, as I did when I created the sphere of glass. Magicking the paints on would almost work, except I can’t imagine what the end result would look like. Without that image firmly fixed in my mind, I might ruin my creation. I won’t chance that. But what’s the alternative? Who can paint my figurines other than me? This community is supposedly full of artists, but I don’t know a single one.
The genie ducked into the first open art gallery he found. He’d brought the interlocked figurines with him.
“Welcome to Dorchester’s. Are you looking for anything in particular this morning?”
Luke held out the small sculpture. “I need to find out if someone can paint this for me. I’ve — ”
“I’m sorry, sir. We don’t do painting here. We only sell artwork.”
Fifteen galleries later — four more in the Tampa Bay area, six others in the United States, and five in Europe — Luke poofed himself home. He magicked himself into the kitchen and loosed a string of curses in three languages, including his native tongue, which had expired in its original version centuries ago. Switching to English at last, he demanded of the house at large, “How am I supposed to finish this if I have no way to finish it?”
He set the figurine on the counter and snagged the kettle off the stove. Maybe a cup of chamomile or peppermint will help me think. After filling the kettle, he began his hunt through the cupboard.
Having kicked off his shoes after his run, Mark skidded down the hall to the kitchen in his socks. Luke’s yell had raised the hair on his arms and the back of his neck.
He paused in the doorway, giving his lover a moment to calm down. Only an idiot went into a dangerous situation without all the facts. And only a man with a death wish flies unprepared into a situation with a nearly all-powerful genie. Even if said genie is my lover.
Luke stood near the counter. His usually neat, slightly longer than regulation blond hair, hung in his eyes. “How am I supposed to finish this if I have no way to finish it?” He stomped to the stove, yanked the kettle off the back burner, and clattered it against the sink as he filled it.
Mark spotted the small sculpture on the counter and retreated. If this was about Luke’s gift to him, he didn’t need to be here. Still, had he ever seen Luke get so upset over something so trivial? That’s my M.O., not his. Maybe we’re focusing on the wrong things here. Maybe we should give these gifts a rest for the next three days. All I really want is to spend time with him.
He’d reached the living room. His gaze dropped to the gifts Luke had given him. Sitting on the coffee table, they looked vulnerable. Mark crossed to them and crouched. These can’t stay here. They’re going to get broken.
The sounds of Luke making tea drifted out of the kitchen.
He probably won’t be open to the idea of setting these gifts aside until he’s calmer. At least that’s how I’d be. Mark tugged a small box from under the table. Luke had been meaning to organize some shells he’d found on the beach in the box, but it would serve a better purpose now, especially divided as it was into many small compartments. Gently, he set each gift in its own space.
Then, rising, he crept to the back door and let himself out. He closed the door silently behind him.
Luke swirled the last sip of chamomile tea and milk in the bottom of his cup. He’d been staring at this last little bit for nearly ten minutes. His mind ached and he could feel the figurines glaring at him from their peaceful pose.
“Do you have signs of your faith? Totems of being a Listener?” he heard his lover ask again. “What do you use to show faith?”
Nothing really, my Mark, but there’s an image and sensation I call to mind now every time I need to remind myself what faith in the physical is like. In spite of his frustration, Luke smiled.
Back when he and Mark met, some of the first progress they made in terms of physical contact centered around the way Mark liked to be held. The best thing about the dragon’s most comfortable position, at least to Luke’s way of thinking, was that Mark hadn’t realized what he enjoyed or why until the day he’d drawn his knees to his chest. Luke, driven by instinct, had at once wrapped his arms around this man he’d barely known at the time, one arm behind Mark’s back and the other around his knees. Almost at once, Mark had relaxed into Luke’s embrace. His faith in Luke’s promise not to hurt him in that vulnerable position still sometimes made Luke’s chest tight.
Luke had sculpted his lover first, taking great care with Mark’s peaceful expression and crossed arms. Then he’d formed the small version of himself around Mark. He’d been careful to connect them only where they touched naturally, like where “Mark’s” cheek rested against “Luke’s” chest.
The genie stood and carried his cup to the sink. As he poured out the last sip of tea, he sighed. “It’s perfect in every detail. It looks like my Mark. I feel his warmth against me when I look at what I made. But it’s not finished. If I want Mark to feel the comfort I feel — ”
Why should he? Since when does an artist’s exact vision carry to his audience unchanged?
Luke fumbled the cup as the voice of the One-Who-Decides blew through his mind like an errant breeze.
He struggled to pull his wits together. I wanted to answer Mark’s question.
This time the answer was in his own mental voice. And painting the figureines is going to do that? Leaving them unpainted is going to ruin the desired affect?
Both valid questions. Luke stared down at the still-running faucet. He put his hand under the water, breaking the stream. How important was a coat of paint?
Or, put another way, why are you obsessing about this instead of allowing the real question to burn its path through your mind?
Luke yanked his hand out of the water. “What real question? I’ve been spending most of the day worrying about — ”
“Maybe there’s a way I can finish my schooling online.” Luke’s words, two days gone, had been prompted by a mournful look in Mark’s eyes as he came up out of the water at dawn. He wants me to stay here.
Luke turned off the water, grabbed a nearby towel, and dried his hands. “I miss him too, but the only reason he’s really upset is that he’s shedding. His emotions are so close to the surface he can’t control them.”
Do you really miss him?
“What sort of question is that? Of course I miss him. I pushed to be with him during this first Hanukkah season, and during at least part of his second-ever shedding.”
His mind demanded, What about the times you forget about him completely in the midst of an exciting new class?
Luke snorted. “That’s normal. No couple, no matter how loving, spends every moment thinking about each other. If they did, they wouldn’t grow.”
Then why, My Listener, are you determined to insinuate yourself back into his here-and-now world before it’s time?
“Because he looked… Because…” Luke shook his head as the answer dissolved. He laughed softly. “Now what do I do?”
But he had that answer.
Mark sifted through the bin. He hummed along to the store radio. There’s got to be something here.
“I guess it’s hard to come into a place like this right now.”
He glanced over his shoulder as the owner of Jodie’s Antiques bustled down the aisle with a loaded box. “Why?” This is pointless. I’m not going to find anything in this one. It’s full of old golf and tennis balls.
She blushed. “We’ve been playing Christmas music since mid-November. Doesn’t that make you… uncomfortable?”
Mark straightened, resisting the urge to dust off his hands. When had he told Jodie’s eldest daughter he wasn’t Christian? “I don’t mind.” He stepped back as she hefted the box. “Do you want help?”
Over their heads, the song changed. Mark tapped his foot. This one’s quicker rhythms used to make him dance as a kid.
“I’ve got it,” Jodie said. “Are you done in there?”
“Yeah.” He lost the beat and sighed. “Don’t know why this particular bin called to me.”
She poured another layer of balls into the box. “Keep going with that feeling. You’re bound to find something. Your boyfriend walked in here three days ago and bought a card on poster board and two plastic containers of Play-DohTM. What did he do with them?”
Mark browsed the shelf across from the overlarge bin. “He created a unique Hanukkah gift.” Books on sewing, gardening, cooking… He snorted. Not happening.
She joined him, leaning a hip against the creaking shelf. Her lips curved slightly. “Was it well-received?”
“Hm?” He glanced at her and then back to the books. On the other hand, whatever I find, as long as it’s got me written all over it, will make him smile.
“The Hanukkah gift. Was it… Never mind. What exactly are you looking for? Maybe I can help.”
He stood back from the shelf, scanning the wide range of titles more quickly. “I don’t know. Luke’s hard to shop for.”
“I always thought lesbian couples would have the easiest time of all the partners out there just because men are absolutely impossible. Knowing what they want is like trying to get vodka from a stone.”
“Don’t you mean blood from a stone? And that’s a bit insulting.”
“Isn’t Luke having trouble shopping for you?”
That’s not what I meant. Explaining proper etiquette to Jodie would take more time than he had. “No.” The song changed again, and he grabbed onto it this time as a distraction. “You’ll be playing Christmas music all the way up through the twenty-fifth?”
“Probably through New Year’s. Everyone — almost everyone — likes it.”
He hummed the slower melody as he drifted to the end of the aisle. “Maybe I could get him a music box.” Now I’m yanking ideas out of the air. What’s a present that will make him smile because it’s got a touch of me in it? The cooking did even when it was burned because I’d worked so hard on it. The flowers worked because I’d put a lot of thought into them. So what can I do with no talents beyond my negotiation skills?
“I thought you didn’t celebrate Christmas!”
Mark blinked at Jodie. “I don’t.”
“Then how do you know ‘Silent Night?’”
He picked through the knick-knacks. Nothing but bears and little ducks. “It plays on the radio. Like you said, from mid-October through the end of December.”
“Too bad you couldn’t just sing Luke a Hanukkah song.”
“All of our gifts have been romantic ones or I would.”
“There are romantic Christmas songs. Are there any romantic Hanukkah ones?”
“Not that I know of.” He grinned. “But that doesn’t mean I couldn’t write one.” Or take a page from Luke’s book and combine a little of this and a little of that. He headed for the door. “Thank you, Jodie! Happy Christmas! Merry Hanukkah!”
He minimized the document he was working on and spun away from his desk. “Come on in, Luke.”
“Why do you have your door closed?” The genie poked his head in. “What are you hiding?”
“I’m working on your present. I didn’t want to take the chance you’d accidentally see it.” He assessed his lover’s vaguely worried expression and stood. “Are you — ?”
Luke took several steps back. “I’m fine. I’m fine.”
The dragon pursued him into the living room. “What’s wrong?”
Luke mumbled something.
Mark crossed to him and took his hands. “What?”
“I have your real present from yesterday. The poem was… I was trying to show you that it’s not what we give, but how we give it. Except I was embarrassed to be reading that thing.”
Mark widened his eyes to roughly the size of headlights and deadpanned, “I’m not the only one who learned something last night? It’s a miracle!”
The genie punched his arm. “So you don’t mind if I present my real gift tonight?”
“Present away. Just so long as you go away for right now and let me work.” He kissed the tip of Luke’s nose. “I love you, but this isn’t as easy as I thought it would be. Let me stew in peace?”
Mark stalked into his office and slammed the door.
“So,” he asked several hours later once the sixth candle had been lit and they again sat in the living room, “comedic or romantic first?”
“You really think my gift will be romantic?” Luke asked.
“You’re expecting mine to be comedic?”
“My Mark, you’ve been snickering like a hyena with a dirty secret.”
I’ll buy that. “I’ll go first, if only because I know your gift will be romantic. We’ll have to see if you can stop laughing long enough to offer it.” He stood, pulled the binder from beside the couch, and faced his lover. “If you’re going to laugh at my singing, at least have the decency to pretend you’re laughing at the words. Agreed?”
Luke opened his mouth, closed it, and then finally said, “Agreed.”
“Do you know ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’? It’s a — ”
Luke hooted. “A Christmas carol! This is going to be good.” He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. He gazed rapturously up at Mark. “Your apostle is listening, oh Messiah!”
Mark scowled to keep from laughing.
“O see my sweet lover/See him in his glory/See him in morning’s glow/Or moonlight’s gleam./All shall come to praise him!/Nay, I’ll keep him for myself./For he’s my love forever./For he’s my love forever./For he’s my love forever,/Luke Morrison.”
Luke leaped off the couch, and Mark realized his lover was doing a version of a football cheer.
Mark laughed outright as Luke lifted him off the floor and spun with him until they landed on the couch together in a tangle of arms and legs.
“So?” Mark asked after they’d had a chance to breathe.
Luke produced a white box only three inches square.
With a delicate touch, Mark pulled the tab out and folded the top back. The burst of color inside reminded him of a blooming flower and he carefully shook the tiny sphere out of its nest.
An almost-sphere, he noticed, when he held the tiny wonder. Its flat bottom nestled on his palm, creating a base for the paradise inside. Dozens of miniature roses, small as beads and made of myriad colors, smiled up at him from inside the glass.
“It doesn’t look made; it looks grown.”
Luke put his hand under Mark’s as if supporting his hold on the miraculous bit of work. Then he turned Mark’s face to his. “One origami flower for every hundred joys we’ll share. And the glass is there to protect them until we’re ready for each one.”
Unable to think of anything to say, Mark kissed his lover. We’ll start the joys now.
Daybreak blurred the line between the Gulf and the sky. Mark smiled as the gray of the dozing Gulf of Mexico ignored the blush of the morning. Then he turned his back on the waking world, spotted his lover waiting on the shore, and headed in.
Luke met him in the shallows. He laid soft kisses over Mark’s knuckles. “Maybe there’s a way I can finish my schooling online.”
The water dragon shook his head. “SearchLight’s not quite that progressive.” He went for his clothes. “But if you want me to request a temporary reassignment…”
“No.” Luke drew him into a deep but too-brief kiss. “Absolutely not.” He let Mark go.
“Why not?” He snatched his towel, shimmied out of his trunks, and wiped himself hastily dry. “I’m sure Ray would let me go until you’ve graduated in oh-seven. I haven’t been promoted in years and — ”
“And you won’t be promoted unless you stay with the same office. Besides, weren’t you the one who said you had to stay with the same office for a year before they’d transfer you?”
I miss you. You’ve been gone for less than two months and it’s already driving me nuts. Mark tugged his shorts on, and then wriggled his toes into sandals. Slinging the towel and his soaked trunks over one arm and a dry shirt around his neck, he marched up the beach. “Six months.”
Luke caught up with him, reached for his hand, and then pulled back when Mark fisted his hand so he could scratch his palm.
“My shedding will be over on the fifteenth.” Mark increased his pace. “But you have to be back on the sixteenth.”
“I’ll be back here on the twentieth.” The genie spoke softly. “Mark, we have time.” He chuckled. “We are managing to enjoy each other’s’ company in spite of your shedding.”
His lover had a point; the dragon slowed. They’d reached the edge of the beach. He didn’t need to stalk down the street displaying his frustration for all and sundry.
“Good morning, gentlemen. We’re having a Christmas sale the entire month of December. Two bouquets for the price of one. If you’re looking for something for your mothers, or girlfriends maybe…?”
Mark caught Luke’s amused sidelong glance, but decided to behave himself. “I think we’re all right.”
“You have lilacs?” Luke bent over one of the carts on the sidewalk. “That’s unusual, isn’t it?”
“Not for us, sir,” the man said, and he smirked at Mark. “They’re a favorite of many of our female customers. Mothers especially love them. They’re a symbol of — ”
“Do you have heliotrope?” the genie asked, his excitement brightening the air.
Instant Hanukkah gift. And I can’t mess up flowers. I certainly can’t burn them, or forget any ingredients. Mark settled back to listen and watch this exchange out of the corner of his eye even as he pretended to be completely absorbed in a pamphlet on the meaning of different carnation colors.
“Never mind,” Luke said. “What about vivendel?” Luke still sounded excited. “Or geitrams?”
The florist’s smug expression had vanished. “I don’t find this at all funny. You’ll have to leave.”
Burying his need to itch, Mark wrapped his arm around Luke’s waist and kissed his cheek. “Come on. Let’s go home and make breakfast.”
Not a single florist in the Tampa Bay area had heard of the second two flowers Luke had mentioned, although Mark couldn’t be quite sure he was pronouncing them correctly. On the other hand, he knew he’d said heliotrope right, and not a single florist had any of that, either.
He’d managed to gather some of the flowers he wanted: red carnations, which he hoped represented love, and lilacs because Luke’s excitement spoke for itself.
Maybe his enjoyment of the purple lilacs has something to do with the Gay Pride Parade, he thought as he rearranged the flowers for the hundredth time in the vase he’d bought an hour ago. Luke was thrilled by the huge march in Orlando.
His cell phone rang. Without looking at the caller I.D., he answered, “Tavery.”
“That’s an interesting way to answer your mother’s call.”
He groaned. “I’m sorry. It’s been a rough day.”
“I’m trying to find these flowers Luke likes and no one’s ever even heard of them. It’s driving me absolutely crazy. And he’s going to be home in twenty minutes. He’s already given me two beautiful gifts, and the dinner I tried to make for him last night… Mom, it stank up the whole house.”
“Vivendel, geitrams, and heliotrope.”
“The first two are Norwegian flowers.”
“How…” He swallowed his confusion and shocked relief. “How do you know that?” Maybe it even makes sense for Luke to like those. He was born a Viking, and even if he’s been away from his homeland for so long…
Her laughter was the tinkling of silver bells. “Mark, when will you remember that our family, specifically my side of the family, is originally from Austria? Now that doesn’t make me an expert, but it did make me interested in that part of the world, especially when my grandmother and great-aunts told us stories at night about growing up in Germany and touring Europe.
“The bad news is you won’t find those flowers here in the United States.”
“But you might find edelweiss.”
Mark grinned. “Mom, I love you.”
“I know. Hurry. You only have fifteen minutes.”
“Are you going to show me now?” Luke asked.
Mark sat next to the genie and kept the vase behind his back. Heat radiated up from the sand and through the blanket. “Will you conjure the menorah and a table to put it on?” He produced his lighter.
Luke settled beside him and poofed the desired items onto the sand.
The midnight blue of the eastern sky faded toward white and even peach over their heads, turning to soft blues, pinks, and the glowing orange of the sun’s passing in the west. Mark lit the first four candles.
Luke rested his hand on Mark’s thigh. “Now can I see what you brought me?”
“Impatient?” But he couldn’t wait either. Carefully, he took the vase from behind his back.
The candle flames seemed to dance in the depths of Luke’s dark blue eyes. “I’ve never seen…” He touched one of the carnations. “Did you go back to the jerk we dealt with this morning?”
“Not a chance. I hunted all over Gulfport, and I even found out what all the flowers mean.” Ignoring his need to itch for the moment, he laid his hand over Luke’s.
His lover set the vase in the sand within the diamond of his crossed legs. “What do the carnations mean?”
Mark rested his head briefly on Luke’s shoulder, closing his eyes when the genie kissed his hair. “They mean I love you.”
“And the… This is edelweiss! Mark, where did you find this?”
I didn’t mess the flowers up. “There’s a little shop on 58th Street. Edelweiss is the national flower of Austria, but it grows in Norway and Finland too.”
“Yes it does.” He laughed. “Is that why you got it?”
Mark sat up, meeting his lover’s gaze in the growing dimness. “Isn’t that why you like the flower?”
“Sort of.” Luke kissed the tip of Mark’s nose.
The dark-haired man knew he was blushing scarlet.
“I like edelweiss and the others you heard me name today because they’re from your original homeland. My home is wherever you are, my Mark, but I know how much closer you’ve grown to your family during these last few months, and I don’t want you to lose that.” He squeezed Mark’s hand. “What about the lilacs? Is that because I was excited about them today?”
He almost couldn’t confess. Looking toward the water, he said, “They’re purple, and since you showed so much excitement during the Gay Pride Parade back in June, I thought…”
Mark bowed his head. “I know, I know.”
“It’s all right, my Mark. I love them. They’re beautiful.”
“But they’re not right.”
“So?” Luke touched Mark’s cheek with gentle fingers, turning his head until their lips met lightly. “They’re perfect. They’re from the man I love, the man I’ll gladly share the rest of eternity with.”
“But — ”
Luke kissed him into silence. “Enough. Do you trust me?”
Mark sighed. “Yes.”
“Then believe I love this bouquet.”
He returned Luke’s kiss. With interest. “I trust you.” But in two days, I’m going to get this right.
04.09.12 After sunset last night, Mark decided to light the menorah his sister sent him. I’ll quote what he said. It made me smile, and gave me the idea for the gift for the seventh day of Hanukkah.
“Technically,” Mark told me as he lit the first two candles, “I should have lit one of these last night too. And we’re not supposed to be giving our presents until after the sun sets. I just haven’t practiced any of these signs of faith since I was forced to.” That’s when my lover glanced at me and asked, “Do you have signs of your faith? Totems of being a Listener?” When I told him no, he asked what I use to show faith. The perfect clay figurine popped into my mind.
I know exactly what I’m giving him on the seventh day of the Festival of Lights. The problem is, it’s noon on the third day, we’ve decided to alternate days of giving, the sun sets in less than eight hours, and I have no idea what to give him TODAY.
Luke slipped his journal onto the bookshelf in their bedroom. He strode into the bathroom and crouched beside the bathtub. “I’ll be back soon. I need some… inspiration.”
Mostly submerged in his second oatmeal bath of the day, Mark nevertheless managed to smirk. “You’re having the same trouble I was yesterday?” He ruined the teasing tone by itching his cheek and muttering a curse when a row of scales dropped off into his hand. “I’m grateful this second shedding is going so much better than the first, but it’s been less than three months since the first one ended. Can’t a dragon catch a break?”
Luke stood, leaned over the tub, and kissed his lover’s dark hair. “Maybe Hanukkah won’t fall during the first two weeks of December next year. And I know one thing. Next year, I’m planning well in advance.”
His lover grinned. “I hear you. No more burned rice for me.”
“Does that mean you’ll be taking a cooking class?”
“Sure. With all my copious amounts of free time.” He snorted. “You’d think I would have picked up something after my two weeks in Japan last month.”
“You did. You can count to ten, say hello and good-bye, apologize, and introduce yourself.” He retreated to the bathroom door. “Sayonara, my Mark. I’ll be back soon.” He magicked himself from the company house into a narrow gap between two of the stores on Beach Boulevard.
“Please,” he murmured to the One-Who-Decides, “guide my eye and my hand. I want to touch my lover’s heart and make him smile.” He scanned the shop windows, skipping over a bookstore and a restaurant offering gift cards for the holiday season. He would have passed the post office cum knick-knack store but for the painting in the window.
“But it’s not from me,” he argued even as he opened the door and set the bells jangling.
“Welcome to Jodie’s Antiques. Are you looking for anything special?” Then the woman’s polite smile morphed to a true one. “Howdy there, Luke. Never thought I’d see you in here.”
He ducked his head a little. “I don’t have much in the way of family to mail to, and since I’ve been away at school…”
She laughed. “So what brings you in here today? Did Mark bribe you?” Her eyes shone. “If he did, what exactly did he bribe you with?”
Luke chuckled. “Wouldn’t you like to know?” He gestured toward the painting in the front window. “How much is the canvas of the night sky?”
Her smile disappeared. “It’s already been sold. That happens with many of our local artists.”
She picked up a stack of cards on the counter. “We have smaller reproductions of it, but…” She held out one of the cards, promptly knocking over a precariously stacked tower of miniature Play-DohTM containers.
Luke scooped up several of the bouncing escapees before they could vanish under any of the shelves. “That’s okay, I’ll — ” Wait. He stared down at the emerald and sapphire colors he’d caught in his right hand. “I didn’t know they were making colors like this.”
“All kinds these days,” she said as she began stacking everything up again. “The kids who come in here go wild when they see the rainbow. Here, I’ll take those.”
“Actually, I think I’ll buy both of these and one of the cards.” Mark loves flying. This is perfect.
And, as he was leaving the store five minutes later, he murmured to his god, “Thank you. You were right.”
“Be careful with it,” he said once they were sitting on the couch with the first three candles of the menorah lit. “The contents are squishable.”
Mark’s Gulf blue eyes flickered to the yellow-green of his dragon nature and he snickered, pressing a hand over his mouth like a teenager. “Is that even a word?”
“It is now.”
His lover tore the paper away in strips to reveal the miniature water dragon Luke had crafted out of the Play-DohTM. The image of the night sky, beautiful with a scattering of stars and a sliver of moon, sat beneath the dragon.
“I can all but feel my wings,” Mark breathed. He closed his eyes for a moment and rested his fingers on the coffee table beside the picture. “I can almost feel the wind and hear all the night sounds.”
Luke settled back against the couch cushions, closing his eyes for a moment too.
Mark’s fingers crept onto his thigh. “If we don’t watch it, making love immediately after we surprise each other with amazing presents like this is also going to become a Hanukkah tradition.”
The genie opened his eyes. “I wouldn’t have a problem with that.” Without moving from his comfortable position against the back of the couch, he offered Mark his arm. “Shall I transport us upstairs, Mawster?”
His lover’s hungry gaze was answer enough.
Cacophony had never been Mark’s friend. Floating on his back, cradled by the Gulf of Mexico, that was his heaven. Publix, with its crowded aisles, screaming babies, rude employees, and misleading signs matched hell more closely than any of Dante’s seven levels. Although, to be fair, if he wasn’t starting the second week of his shedding cycle, he might not be quite this tense.
It’s not even eleven on a Wednesday morning. How can there be so many people? He stared at the miso soup recipe. The library book weighed heavy in his hand.
A woman shoved past him with an overflowing cart (complete with yowling toddler; Yaweh spare him) and the dragon swallowed his natural growl. She couldn’t know his state of mind.
“All right. Step one: dashi.” He frowned at the shelves of the International aisle, scanning cans, boxes, and jars. “What is dashi, anyway?” With a sigh, he flipped to the back of the book. At least he’d been vouchsafed an excellent glossary. “Here we go. Dashi: bonito tuna flakes.” Mark groaned. “Bonito? Like the Spanish word for pretty?” He grinned. “Wait. Tuna flakes. This is talking about a fish stock, like for fish stew. If I can’t find it in this aisle, I know right where there’s a good alternative.”
Nodding, he flipped back to the recipe. Tofu. Okay, that’s easier. At least I know what that is. He found the soy product. A whole shelf of it. Silken tofu, soft tofu, medium tofu, firm tofu… “Why me? If it wouldn’t blow the whole surprise, I’d call Luke and ask at least three questions.”
Mark crossed his arms, holding his place in the book with one finger. Well, since I’m making soup I probably want something on the softer side that will cook quickly. He scooped up a box of silken tofu.
There was only one more item on the recipe: seaweed.
Maybe I could just go down to the beach and… He snorted. Who knows what’s in the water around here? Besides, this is supposed to be some kind of special seaweed, I’ll bet.
“Wakame seaweed… But there’s only konbu seaweed.” As long as it had been cleaned and purified, wasn’t one seaweed like any other? He’d swallowed enough of it while in his water dragon form. And if it all tastes the same to me…
Mark glanced at his watch. “Holy — ” He looked around, expecting to see a mother with her children right behind him. He was safe. “But how can it be almost eleven-thirty?” He’d only convinced Luke to stay out of the house until one. He needed to get going.
I can do this if I hurry. What’s next? There’s always rice with a Japanese meal, right? I wonder if Luke will mind if it’s instant rice.
An hour later, Mark gaped at the disgusting soup. He’d given up the burned insto-rice for lost.
He itched both arms, growling at the continued shedding. It was easier this time, but taking two weeks out of his life to shed his scales was not his idea of convenience.
His stomach rumbled and he licked his lips, chasing the last of the salt. “At least some of this tasted good.” He scowled at the empty can of Russian caviar. The fish eggs had been meant for the sushi, but the fish had given up the ghost almost before he’d started. When he’d opened the caviar, the strong aroma had called to his dragon nature. Moments later, he’d swallowed the can’s entire contents.
Speaking of fish… I don’t think dashi’s anything like fish stock. The boiling soup stank so heavily of fish that Mark had opened all the windows and even lit a few of Luke’s scented candles. Lavender, autumn leaves, and fish didn’t combine well.
He stirred the glop, wincing when a large seaweed leaf stuck to the spoon thanks to the silken tofu. The soy product had turned gelatinous. “Are we really supposed to eat this?”
“What is it?”
Mark jumped, dropping the spoon; it vanished into the bubbling liquid. “Oh great.”
Luke reached past him and turned off the burner. “Do you want me to move that off the heat?”
“Please.” If Luke didn’t recognize the soup, this Hanukkah gift was in big trouble. “It’s miso soup, but I can’t figure out why it’s the wrong color.”
“Did you add the miso paste?”
The dragon groaned.
Luke conjured two oven mitts out of thin air and carried the pot to the table. He poofed a trivet into place and set the pot down. “It’s… all right. This is your first time with Japanese cooking.” He returned to Mark’s side and lifted the lid on the rice.
“Don’t bother. It’s burned.”
Luke kissed his lover’s cheek. “How did you know I like it that way?”
The genie’s eyes twinkled. “Prove it.” He carried the rice to the table as well. “Is there more?”
“There was supposed to be sushi, but…” Mark held up the can of caviar. “It… I…” He studied the floor between his feet as heat climbed his cheeks. “It tasted really good.”
Luke took his hands. “I don’t mind. Let’s eat before the soup gets cold.”
Two minutes later, their bowls full, Mark watched his lover take a sip. And wince.
And smile. “It’s fine without the miso paste. Maybe you’ve created a new dish.”
He can’t mean that. Mark sipped a little of the reeking broth, repressing the need to gag. “Luke, you don’t have to eat this,” he said when he could breathe.
“It’s fine.” Luke took another sip, managing not to wince this time, though his smile was less convincing.
Discretion may be the better part of valor, but I refuse to poison him. Mark stood, picked up both bowls, and carried them to the sink.
Luke followed, wrapping his arms around his lover from behind. “Mark, it’s your first time. I don’t mind. And it’s really not that bad.”
Mark’s throat tightened. He turned in the circle of Luke’s arms and smiled a little. “Can you magick us a real version of what I was trying to make? Please?”
A crease appeared between Luke’s golden eyebrows. “Will you at least tell me what prompted this? You’re not a bad cook, my Mark, but Japanese food is a little complicated, especially the first time you try it.”
I’m blushing again. “I didn’t know you were an expert with origami. But the body of the model you made was flawless and I thought if you know that Japanese art so well you might enjoy Japanese food. I didn’t think it would be half this hard.”
“You know all about the spirit of Hanukkah, my Mark.” His tender gaze changed, igniting the air. “Come on. I’ll magick us some miso and then we’ll enjoy a little holiday play.”
04.07.12 The powers that be here at SearchLight Academy finally gave me permission to go home for Hanukkah. Huh, as my Mark is fond of saying. I’m over a thousand years old, it’s been nearly that long since I called any one place my home, and now only Mark’s house, Mark’s bed, anyplace where Mark lives, is my home.
I still don’t know what to give him for what he terms this “child’s holiday,” but I have until sunset. A few more hours. Maybe Mark will give me an idea.
Luke popped into existence in the kitchen of the company house. He sensed his lover nearby and turned a full circle, but Mark wasn’t in the room. He transported himself upstairs, and heard the soft splash and mumble of water in their bathtub. Silent as a shadow, Luke crept to the partially open bathroom door.
Mark’s dark tousled hair showed just above the water; Luke noted that his dragon lover was soaking in an oatmeal bath. Good. That would help his second-ever shedding.
“Mm,” Luke said. “It’s a little late for breakfast, but you’re making me hungry, Mawster.”
His lover splashed water over the side of the tub, went under, and came up spluttering. His eyes, bright sapphires, blazed at Luke as he wiped his face. A grin started at the corners of his mouth, and Luke laughed as his lover tried to glare despite the obvious joy radiating off him.
“What are you — ? No, don’t answer that.” Mark stood. Water cascaded off him. “Is this my Hanukkah present?”
“Maybe.” But only if I can’t think of a better one. He crossed to his lover, poofing a towel from his lamp and using his magic to warm it before wrapping it around Mark. “How’s the shedding?”
Mark scowled. “Itchy.”
Luke held out his arms. “May I?”
“Only because you enjoy it so much.” Mark licked his lips. “And because I’ll make you pay for it later.”
Maybe a sexual gift? With his lover safe in his arms, Luke strode into their bedroom.
He spotted the card on the dresser and magicked it over so he could read it as he settled on the bed with Mark still in his arms.
“It’s from my brother.”
The homophobic bastard. Although to give Jonathan Tavery credit, the few words he’d spoken to Luke over the last two months had lacked their previous malice.
Mark squirmed, and Luke let the water dragon off his lap. He poofed a tube of lotion into Mark’s hand. “I’ll help you in a second. I want to read this.”
“It’s your funeral.” But Mark’s lips twitched again.
Luke flipped open the card, seeing it was originally blank inside. Jonathan had penned a short note on top. On the bottom, he’d attached a picture of an old style Pontiac.
Not just any Pontiac. That’s Mark’s Pontiac back when it was brand new.
‘You’re going to have to give up my car eventually, but here’s a picture of her in her glory days.
‘Happy Hanukkah to you and Luke — Jon’
Luke dropped the bit of cardboard and paper and stared at Mark. “Your car was his car?”
Without looking up from his industrious application of lotion to both arms, Mark said, “I needed something of my family’s to take with me. When I left, I fully expected never to go back.”
Luke magicked the card into his pocket, glad his lover wasn’t looking at him. “I’ll be back with your present in a few hours. It’s a special order.” Please let me be able to do this for him. He’d never tried something quite this complicated, and he’d definitely need magic to paint it, but the construction would be by hand.
Mark glanced up, and his disappointment was clear.
The genie leaned in and kissed him. “I promise it will be worth it.”
“How long are they letting you stay?”
“Until the sixteenth. But I’ll be back on the twentieth after I take the finals I missed, and then I don’t have to leave again until the New Year.”
His lover nodded. “Go on. I’ll actually make dinner instead of the take-out I was planning.”
Luke kissed him again, and then vanished.
“Is it fragile?” Mark lifted the box with both hands and settled it on his lap. “Like the clay dragon?”
“A little more delicate than that.” Luke bounced on the balls of his feet. The gift had exceeded his expectations, though he’d used more magic than he’d expected. Who knew making such a seemingly simple thing could be so difficult?
Mark opened the box, his fingers deft and quick. “Luke, what… Oh…” He drew the model out, his face full of the wonder of a child. “It’s… Where did you get this?” He held up the model of his late 80s Pontiac. The whole car was no larger than his two fists. “Did you make this?” He ran a finger lightly over the roof and down over the hood. “Is it made of paper?”
“Parts of it are. I’ve been studying origami for a long time.” Luke crouched in front of his lover. “Is it right?”
“Down to the tiniest detail.” Mark returned the model to its box and set the box on the coffee table. “Thank you.” He tugged Luke forward until their lips met.
Happy Hanukkah, my Mark.
Happy Hanukkah! Well, almost. The Festival of Lights starts after sundown on December 20th this year. To celebrate, my Jewish dragon, Mark, and his genie lover, Luke, will be posting excerpts from their journals and other assorted writings. They went through a difficult (and heated) patch during Hanukkah a few years back, and now they’re ready to share their adventure. Come enjoy the eight crazy nights as only a genie and dragon can put them together.
Running on my blog every night after sundown from December 20th through December 28th.
Dragon in Training series (available, of course, at www.loose-id.com):
Dragon Food: www.loose-id.com/catalogsearch.aspx?Keywords=Dragon%20Food
Dragon Fire: www.loose-id.com/catalogsearch.aspx?Keywords=Dragon%20Fire
Coming Soon: the third and final book in the Dragon in Training series…
Also, just a quick note: I have finally joined the Tweet generation, although I’m still not sure what you call your profile name. Is it called a profile name? Please comment!
My profile name is: CarringtonEmily. Look to my Tweet for news about the Dragon in Training series, giveaways, contests, and other assorted goodies.