Sunday, May 31, 2015

Dreamer theme with Lex Chase

for those who like interesting blogs, Lex Chase is doing a monthly blog on different themes each time at the DSP (Dreamspinner Press) blog, which can be found here:
And there's a giveaway, too!

week in round up

It has been a busy week. In no particular order:

-- I bought some white globe radishes at a farmers market and now I'm in love with trying different radishes. The white globe radishes were mild, firm, and succulent. I bought some seeds at the store (5 different kinds!) and dug up a bit more of the yard, and have put three kinds in. They only take about 25-30 days (except one kind that takes 55 days, but I haven't planted that sort yet) and I am hoping I will have amazing radishes in less than a month. The last time I tried to grow radishes, it was a disaster. I let them go too long and ended up with inedible woody roots. I've got the end date on the calendar this time, though. I'll pull the radishes and hopefully there will be a feast!

-- I don't actually consider myself much of a gardener. I like to do a small plot and a few things, particularly tomatoes, because they taste magnificent out of a home garden and are completely unlike the tasteless things at the supermarket (note to self: go get a copy of The Dorito Effect, since I heard a fascinating interview with the author, it takes on this topic), but I have found myself talking gardening quite a lot lately. Everyone around me is engaged in worrying about wilt, fungus, blight, and beetles. I'm starting to think we're lucky to be able to grow anything at all!

-- Went dancing last night and had a lovely time. It was quite like being back in high school and going to the prom! There were way better snacks at this one, though, including ice cream. My dress was yellow and long. I felt pretty, oh so pretty. ;) I haven't any idea what to do for a story about dancing, but surely something will occur to me.

-- I worked very hard on finishing up the 300 word challenge and got it submitted. I'm super impressed with this little ficlet. It was in a genre (sci-fi) that I almost never write in, and the challenge of thinking about the future was...challenging. Generally not my strength, but it was good to flex those muscles! One of the hardest parts was thinking about the names -- surely future generations will have entirely different kinds of names than we have now, but how to guess? check out this super interesting name bubbles visual graphic over time. I keep watching it over and over again, because you can't catch it all on one viewing, and have taken to pausing it to study the graphic. This thing is mesmerizing!!

Friday, May 29, 2015

Free Fiction: Decisions, Decisions

On Wednesday, Phillip asked, "What should we do this weekend? My hike with my naturalist group got canceled and the Sunday flag football practice is postponed until Monday night since they needed the field for an all day ultimate tournament."

"Hmm?" Oscar tore his attention away from the news article he'd been reading. "Oh, anything. We always talked about going on a trip. Go to the beach, or stay over night in the city. We could catch a show and visit some museums. Check out if they have any festivals planned."

"I suppose," Phillip said.

"Or we could pick a project and get it done. You wanted to mend the broken tile in the breezeway. Fix the drainage in that low spot in the yard. Stain the deck?" Oscar tried to remember the other projects. There were at least a dozen. He had them jotted down somewhere, but the piece of notepaper was not close at hand.

"We could do that," Phillip said.

"You think about it and let me know."

On Thursday, Phillip asked, "I've been thinking about the weekend."

"Did you decide which project to tackle?" Oscar asked. He really hoped it wasn't the drainage one. He'd checked the weather and it was supposed to be hot and humid. The thought of digging up the yard didn't appeal.

"No projects," Phillip said. "I was thinking we should do something fun."

"We could always invite the neighbors over for a barbeque. And we could take a trip into town and look at those carpets you were interested in. Maybe catch lunch at a little bistro."

"Those are possibilities."

"Let me know. I can pick up steak and chicken for the grill on my way home from work tomorrow."

"Hmm," said Phillip.

Oscar went back to slogging through his far-too-full e-mail box.

On Friday, Phillip said, "About the weekend—"

"Oh!" Oscar interrupted him, suddenly remembering that he'd forgotten an important voice mail message. "Lola called. There's some sort of charity event all day Saturday that she wanted us to volunteer for."

"She called me too. I donated money and got us excused from the volunteering."

"Oh, good." Oscar turned to look Phillip over. "Does that mean you've decided about our weekend plans?"

"Almost. I'll let you know."

On Saturday, Phillip whispered into Oscar's ear, "Wake up, dearest."

Oscar creaked both eyes open and stretched a little. The weekend had finally arrived. "So, what are we going to do today?"

Phillip feathered a touch down Oscar's side. "Stay in bed all day. I haven't had you all to myself for far too long, and everything else can wait until next weekend."

Oscar shifted his weight around so he could look at Phillip. His lover had a very self-satisfied, smug air about him. He also looked positively delectable. "That sounds perfect."

"I thought so too."

Thursday, May 28, 2015

ficlet coming

I'm working on an Oscar and Phillip ficlet for tomorrow, for the Free Friday Fiction. It has been awhile since I visited with those two, I realized I missed them!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

decompressing, and a cookout

It has been a wonderful weekend so far. I've caught up on my sleep (wow, naps, so enjoyable! If I could go back in time, I would tell the little version of me to make the most of them!) and nibbled on good eats, and relaxed, and spent some time wandering about outdoors looking at the garden. Later today there's a cookout planned (picnic, BBQ, clam bake, wienie roast, party, what-have-you), which should be a fun time. No writing going on this weekend; I'm filling my cup, as it were.

I hope everyone out there is having a pleasant weekend, too!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

an unhappy cat tale

This story is not for the squeamish, or for anyone who doesn't want to hear about sad, awful things. But it happened, and I want to recount it.

I was traveling yesterday for the Memorial Day weekend. It was a lovely day and I didn't need to get anywhere fast, so I was going the speed limit. At one point, I had two cars built up behind me, so I pulled over to the side and let them pass as they both obviously wanted to travel much faster than me. After I did that, about a mile or two or three (I really wasn't quite paying attention to that aspect), I saw the outline of an animal in the road, and I slowed down.

It was a cat, grey and stripy, and it was very reluctant to get out of the road on my side. Next to it, near the middle, but definitely on my side of the road, was another cat, lying down, still alive, but obviously hurt. It was also grey and stripy, very possibly a littermate of the unhurt one. It was also obvious that no amount of help was going to save the injured cat, but I was now worried about the other one. If it continued to try to stay with its buddy, in the road, it might also end up being hit. That, at least, was something I could do something about, if only a little thing.

I had to go past, as there wasn't anywhere safe to stop, and turn around in a mile or two, so it took me maybe three or four minutes to get back to the spot. A few cars passed me going the other way while I did this.

I was worried about how to move the cat. I didn't have anything very useful in the car like a board or anything, and I didn't want to get scratched or bitten in case it had a reaction to me. I did have gardening gloves, so I put those on after I found a spot to pull off to the side of the road. I could see the unhurt cat skulking in the vegetation off to the side. It obviously wanted to be near, but all the traffic was in the way.

The hurt cat in the road had been avoided by the other cars, for which I was thankful, because it wasn't additionally flattened. (I had flashed my lights to warn the oncoming cars there was something ahead.) There wasn't any blood. It looked intact, but it was definitely in worse condition and most likely already dead by the time I returned. I got it over to the side, off the road. (I was a little concerned other drivers going by would think I had hit the cat, which I had not, but there was nothing to do about that.) There was no way to tell where it might have come from, possibly the house nearest, but the house looked unoccupied for the moment, and really, it didn't look like anything could be done for the poor cat. Maybe it was a little bit of discourtesy on my part, to not follow through at that point, but I left then.

It seemed to me it was one of those two vehicles in front of me that had hit the cat. Of which I am angry and guilty. In thinking I was being courteous by letting them go past, I had allowed them to speed along. Sometimes there is nothing to be done -- cats and other animals do dart out. Later in the drive, a rabbit scurried across the road, and if it had been closer to me, there would have been nothing I could do. But

I at least didn't want the other cat in the road, and I'd made as sure of that as I could.

So, I'm left with the fact that one of those other drivers hit the cat, and didn't stop to do anything about it. (Triple damnation: they were speeding, they hit the cat possibly because of that factor, and then didn't stop to even check to see what they had wrought.) And then all the other drivers (more than 5, less than 10, I didn't count exactly), who also passed the two cats (although they may not have seen the second, uninjured one) and would surely have seen that the injured cat wasn't quite dead, and also didn't stop to do anything about it -- not even to pull the cat off the side of the road. (Perhaps a lesser thing, but it would have been less than five minutes out of their day, as it was mine, to take an action.)

In the circumstances of a wild animal, I can see why -- squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, etc., may be dangerous to approach, and I would not have done it either. I suppose I'm just disappointed in the whole thing, and in the people.

So, if you're driving this holiday weekend, please take a moment to slow down, and then another moment to think beyond your own small bubble. Thank you.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Updated! Available story linking post

With Cotton Candy Deceit releasing yesterday, it was time to update my overall story links post. I keep it here: Stories by Tray Ellis , which is a sticky post that stays at the top of that online journal, but I will also paste the whole thing below.


Cotton Candy Deceit

Jack Abbott has forbidden his son, Zeke, to attend the local circus. When Zeke goes against his wishes, Jack must rescue him from the clutches of a world he once escaped, but only at the cost of his lover, Jonas. Returning to the circus brings back nightmares, but Jack learns that Jonas is still alive. Now an opportunity arises for Jack to rescue Jonas as well as Zeke, and to stop the dark dealer at the circus… forever.

How Sweetly the Whippoorwill Sings

A free extra that goes with this story can be found here: The Nightingale's Confection

Molly and Irving are getting married, but some very real sparks are also flying between Irving's best man, Everett Donnelly, and Molly's brother Jake. After all the speeches and traditional activities are over Everett finds Jake to see if they can make a little romance of their own.

Never Waste a Good Left Turn, part of the Random Acts of Kindness Anthology

It’s often said there’s not enough kindness in the world. The men in this collection want to change that by reaching out a helping hand to a stranger or friend in need. They prove that an act of compassion—no matter how big or how small—can make a difference.

Never Waste A Good Left Turn:
Just about every morning, the friendly hatchback let Leif take a difficult left hand turn on his way to a stressful, uptight IT job. Leif appreciates the mystery man’s kindness, but doesn’t think much about it until he finds the hatchback in a ditch and Jason trapped behind the wheel. Now Leif has an opportunity to repay all those left hand turns, if he can figure out how to deal with a free spirit in his home.

Pouring a Brick
High-energy Spence joins a Brazilian jiu-jitsu school looking for adventure and meets Will, an advanced practitioner of the gentle art. After training for a tournament, Spence realizes that pushing the boundaries may be the only way to take their friendship to the next level.
The Way to a Fisherman's Heart, part of the Snow on the Roof Anthology
Jim loves fishing, but there's more than just the water and fresh air that lures him out to the fishing hole. Franklin is often there, with tips and tales of a well-spent lifetime of angling. Will Jim find out if the attraction is mutual, or will this be the one that got away?

Nuts, Bolts, and Chihuahuas
And two surprise free extras for this story that can be found HERE and HERE
TJ has been spending his summer learning how to manage the family hardware store. He expects another ordinary work day when he stumbles into a brawl involving Arlo, a frequent customer he’s been flirting with. If TJ survives this fight, he wants an explanation, and it should start with where the extra-smart dog came from.

Free Reads
Alligator on the Green, part of the Please Don't Feed the Alligators Anthology
Hal's husband, Julian, is a tall tale teller, and he is bending the ear of an important socialite at a party. Worse, he's embellishing the story of how he and Hal met, complete with a swampy golf course and an alligator.

As part of the Free Fiction Friday group, most Fridays I put up a short ficlet. These are generally unedited, randomly inspired, and a great opportunity for me to explore topics and ideas that may not need an extensive (long) story, or to return to characters for bits and pieces of their lives ( I have at least that I find myself gravitating back to). For readers, it is a perfect way to get a sense of my style! Check out the Free Reads link here.

sunny day, spooky story

Days full of sunshine and blooming flowers and newly mown grass are perfect for getting to work on a ghost story, right? Gothic, creepy, horror-filled narratives are absolutely best (and most safely) accomplished on warm, bright, lovely spring days when you can see dandelion fluff floating by on the wind. That way, no matter what dark, frightening things you conjure up to put on a page, the moment you look up again, you are popped back into the happy world where you see fat bumblebees flitting from violet to violet. *nods*

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Release Day!! Cotton Candy Deceit

It is release day for my story "Cotton Candy Deceit", published by Rooster & Pig Publishing, and available here:

Here's the encapsulating blurb:

Jack Abbott has forbidden his son, Zeke, to attend the local circus. When Zeke goes against his wishes, Jack must rescue him from the clutches of a world he once escaped, but only at the cost of his lover, Jonas. Returning to the circus brings back nightmares, but Jack learns that Jonas is still alive. Now an opportunity arises for Jack to rescue Jonas as well as Zeke, and to stop the dark dealer at the circus… forever.

Here's the incredible cover:

I love this cover. The feel of it hits the mark of the story pitch-perfectly. Also, carousels are awesome.

This story has a little bit of everything, and is one of the stories that I think really captures my style of writing well. It feels almost sepia-toned in some respects, with a timeless air for setting, in that hazy period of early summer when anything is possible. It has a creepy feel to it, with a deep romance to balance the elements of horror. I am overwhelming proud of how this story turned out. It was good, and the editing process at R&P made it great. Also, it has a donkey. And everyone knows that donkeys make for the best stories ever!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Free Friday Fiction: Calliope Fair, and Thief

Roped off, and gleaming in brassy tones, the strange instrument on the deck of the steamboat caught Jorge's attention. He wandered over and stood at the back of the crowd. Taller than average, it was easy to see over the people's heads and Jorge studied the object with interest. It was musical, and something like a piano, perhaps even more like a church organ, but definitely something different.

"What is it?" he asked the girl standing next to him in the crowd.

His deep voice caught her attention, as well as a few others, and that of the guide on the other side of the rope. They all turned their gaze to him. Jorge was used to it, even a little flattered by it. Growing tall and muscled hadn't been the only gift bestowed by puberty. His lighter, childlike voice had deepened and dropped, and now when he spoke, he sounded like a grown man, and far older than he sometimes felt.

"A calliope, good sir," answered the guide, deftly catching the crowd's attention again. His name tag simply read "Walter". "My pride and joy. It runs on steam. And was used for decades to announce to the towns that a steamboat was coming along. Demonstrations on the half hour."

Being just past the hour, the crowd dispersed, but Walter signaled to Jorge to stay. "You look like a man with keen interest. Would you like to play her?"

Jorge's fingers fairly itched to touch the keys. "Very much," he said, thinking back to Great Aunt Edna's organ lessons. He knew the keys, even if he couldn't exactly recall how to play. He searched briefly for his boyfriend, eager to include him in the unexpected treat, but Kai was in line at the bar. This day playing tourist had been his idea originally, and he was determined to enjoy it to the maximum. "Just press the keys?" Jorge asked.

"Yes, yes, of course." Walter lightly ran his fingers down the octaves, to a white key far on the left. "She's in a sorry state. Not all of her is working." He depressed the key and no sound came out. "I'm fixing her, note by note, though."

Walter played a jaunty tune on the middle section of keys and Jorge recognized the sound. Tight and off-key in the high register, the sound sang of circuses and amusement parks, whispering fun in his ear while a shiver ran down his spine.

"What do you think?" Walter asked.

"It's a strange instrument," Jorge said.

"That it is." He paused, and then Walter said, "You know, this one right here would be just about the pitch of your speaking voice. Well, perhaps a half tone lower." He depressed the soundless key again, thumping it up and down, then holding it down.

"Really?" Jorge asked as he put out a finger to touch the music-empty key. He still wanted to play and was waiting for a signal to go ahead.

"As if you needed to lower your voice." Walter laughed. "Such an unusually deep voice you're blessed with!"

"I can go lower," Jorge said, dropping his voice even further. "I—" He noticed Walter's smile stretched toothily-wide as he did so and then Kai bumped into him and spilled his drink all over the floor and onto Walter's shoes.

Walter shouted, "Hey, now!" He picked up his feet and shook the liquid off.

"Sorry!" Kai said, his voice clipped, pitched tight, and not a damn bit sorry. "Let's go, lover," he said to Jorge. "There's more of this boat to see." He waggled his fingers at Walter, who looked thunderous.

Jorge let himself be led away.

"That man was not right. He looked like a wolf that wanted to eat you all up!" Kai marched them far away from the calliope.

"I guess," Jorge said. He hadn't noticed, the shining brass had taken all his attention, and his breath away.

Kai kept them busy for at least another hour, ducking into rooms, canvassing corridors, and generally sticking their noses into every cranny on the steamboat open for tourist inspection. Jorge was tired and ready to find an air conditioned restaurant for a well deserved meal as they finally exited the boat.

Waiting in line to leave, he could hear the conversation behind them.

"Laryngitis? Really, Frank? You haven't been quiet a day in your life," said a woman.

Frank just mumbled a reply, the tone of his voice a deep, rolling bassoon-sound, without volume or distinction.

"Well, you shouldn't have stood out in the sun watching that ridiculous calliope demonstration. And singing along! You should know better!" The one-sided conversation drifted away and the two of them walked off in a different direction.

Jorge paused and turned to look back at the steamboat. As if on cue, the calliope started playing, and Jorge was sure it wasn't his imagination, but it seemed to have a few more lower notes than before.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

counting words is a funny business

So, I had a goal to write something under 300 words and I thought, perhaps it might be better to try writing by hand rather than typing, and see if the different medium will lend itself to a stricter word count.

I scribbled down some narrative, treating myself to the use of a very stylish pen, though with very ordinary paper, and thought, oh, this is way over!

I transcript the jottings into the computer and the word count comes out to be 425.

I can go two ways with this ficlet. It would be better told if I filled in the missing places and sanded the wrong edges. But I could also strip it bare. Take it down to the scaffolding. There would be a stark, strong story in telling it with only the barest of necessities. Both ways would provide a good tale, just in two different ways.

Decisions, decisions....

Monday, May 11, 2015

pretty pink tulips

I love all the colors that tulips come in. The pinks are very lovely, and the variegated ones are quite attractive.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

wedding season in June

I just realized that wedding season is almost upon us. It starts in May, but hits stride in June. And there are really only so many weekends in the month of June, so competition will be fierce.

Soon, all thoughts will turn to wedding etiquette, and manners, and calligraphy on invitations. I have to admit I sometimes get swept up in all the exuberant romance (the flowers! the beautiful vows! the exchange of rings! the gorgeous dresses!), and sometimes mired in all the details (introductions, apparently, have an order they should be performed in, according to the social status of the two individuals with respect to each other, and the one doing the introductions).

I spent a lot of time reading up on wedding rituals and etiquette, and terminology, when I was working on How Sweetly the Whippoorwill Sings. It made me feel a bit like a secret wedding planner! (Props out to wedding planners -- the stress must be intense!)

So far, though, things are slowing down. My friends are mostly already settled in, and the rush of parties has trickled in recent years. In some ways, I'm glad to avoid those duties, but I do miss the enjoyment of the food and dancing. June is a lovely month in which to make, and witness, promises.

lilacs blooming

Lilacs provide some of the sweetest smells of spring and early summer. Their blooms shine for a few weeks, and then fade, and we must wait again another whole year. We teeter on the cusp of lilac season.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Cotton Candy Deceit and amazing editors

Today is another Free Fiction Friday (find links to all the free stories by lots of authors here: ) and today I have a short ficlet up as well (link to all the free reads I've put up: ) which brings me (finally!) to my point for this post.

If you like the writing styles of the authors, definitely take a look at their published stories, novellas, novels, and more. Having gone through the editing process with my newest upcoming release, I have to say, the story the reader gets after that process is going to be so much more fantastic. The sticky bits gets unstickified, backstories get filled out, weak paragraphs are reworked.

The version of Cotton Candy Deceit available through Rooster & Pig is a thousand times stronger for having been through the editing process (with a truly whipsmart editor). Free stories give you a great flavor for a writer's style, but then definitely give a try to a well-smoothed and edited product, because the effort gone into those stories truly make them worth it.

And now a link to the pre-order page for my story Cotton Candy Deceit!

And the gorgeous cover!

Jack Abbott has forbidden his son, Zeke, to attend the local circus. When Zeke goes against his wishes, Jack must rescue him from the clutches of a world he once escaped, but only at the cost of his lover, Jonas. Returning to the circus brings back nightmares, but Jack learns that Jonas is still alive. Now an opportunity arises for Jack to rescue Jonas as well as Zeke, and to stop the dark dealer at the circus… forever.

Free Fiction: The Price of Harvest

A little bit of an anti-romance today...or is it? Perhaps more of the story will evolve later on, but for now, this little snippet is it.


Vaughn spied the patch of tender green leaves among the various shades of dried brown and tan detritus on the forest floor. The leaves were flat, young, and lush, and he could see hints of white and purple on the stalks that jutted just above the old, dried leaves from last autumn. Ramps. Sometimes called wild leeks, or allium by the snootier foragers. Vaughn’s mouth watered at the discovery.

But he also spied another person standing equidistant away on the opposite side of the ramps and staring straight at him. Competition for the ramps.

“There’s not enough for both of us,” Fender called across the space. In the dappled sunlight of early spring, he looked a bit like a mystic woodland creature, though his eyes were sharp and shrewd, like a human’s.

“I found it first,” Vaughn replied. A quick estimation of the ramps did indeed tell Vaugn that there wasn’t enough for two people to take them and leave enough for conservation. Ramps grew wild, and if there were to be more ramps next year, the smart forager left some to grow.

“You didn’t. We arrived at the exact same moment. Next argument. I make the better pesto,” Fender countered.

Vaughn clenched his teeth together and then exhaled, releasing the tension. Fender had won a pesto contest at the ramp festival last year. His claim was valid, however much Vaugn detested it. He did make an excellent pesto. “I make a better salsa verde.”

Fender threw up his hands. “Granted. I would walk a hundred miles for a pint of your salsa verde. So we’re equal there.”

Vaughn shifted his balance from left foot to right foot and back again, feeling edgy. He wanted this stand off to end. “Give me the ramps and I’ll save some salsa for you.” It was the best offer he could make. The flavor of a ramp centered somewhere between garlic and onion. Its sharp flavor brought life and depth to dishes. It made good soups great, and great sauces better. Adding ramps to just about anything savory increased the deliciousness of the dish by a factor of ten. Vaughn's salsa was really good without the ramps, but with them, it was amazing, and worth bargaining for.

Fender laughed. In the hush of the forest, it sounded like a trumpet of mirth, both giving him a mastery of the location, and marking him as not belonging. If he was a woodland creature, he was an evil one. “Give me a kiss, and I’ll let you have all the ramps.”

“What?” Vaughn took a step back.

“You heard me. One kiss and all the ramps are yours.”

The idea was repugnant. Vaughn took another step away. There were other ramps he could find, and soon there would also be mushrooms to forage. Vaugn would sooner eat dirt than kiss Fender. Vaughn could appreciate that Fender might be easy on the eyes, but the moment he paid attention to Fender’s personality, any attraction was immediately doused. “Not interested.” Vaughn backed away even more. “The ramps are yours. Remember to leave some to the forest.” As he turned and walked away, he heard Fender rustling branches and crunching old leaves on the forest floor behind him.

“I’ll catch you someday!” Fender called out.

Vaughn didn’t bother to answer. He slipped through the trees, searching for the path he’d taken earlier. It was still spring, and there was more forest in which to walk. He let the thought of kissing Fender drift away. He knew of an abandoned asparagus patch he had yet to visit, and it was just about time to start harvesting the stalks. It was his secret stash and his alone, there would need be no reason to trade kisses for that harvest.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Free Fiction: Spring Cleaning (And Sneezing)

“What's all this?” Oscar stopped just past the threshold of their bedroom. The entire room appeared to have been upended. Drawers stuck out haphazardly, clothes mounded in piles, and heaps of books leaned against the baseboard. The windows were open and warm sunlight as well as a brisk breeze filled the room.

“Organizing!” Phillip said. He kneeled in one corner of the room, stretching an arm under the bed and hauling out miscellaneous items. Forgotten magazines were pulled forth and a multitude of dust bunnies tumbled with them. Despite the coolness of the air, Phillip was dressed only in a t-shirt and shorts. His face was flushed from exertion and he looked like he had hopped himself up on a dozen cups of coffee and might never come down.

Although he hesitated to use the word adorable on anything other than a child's toy, Phillip's antics and attire did cause Oscar to at least consider the word. But, as charming and attractive as his lover might be in a state of high energy, the room was still an utter mess, and the knife-edge of long travel jabbed at Oscar's eyes and into the tender joinings of his nerves.

“Today? Right now? I just got back from Austin. It was a two day trip and I’m exhausted," Oscar said.

Phillip straightened up and made shooing motions with his hands. “I don’t need you. This is my project. Go rest in the living room or the guest bedroom.”

“I can’t let you do this without help!” Oscar protested. The trip had worn his thin, but his innate sense of fairness dictated that he not allow Phillip to tackle a huge task without assistance. Oscar glanced to the left and scrawled words on a piece of paper caught his eye.

“Sure you can,” Phillip said, his voice muffled. He’d gone back under the bed, diving for lost treasures.

Oscar skimmed the paper. Clean the garage. Clean the basement. Clean the attic. Clean the shed. Clean the kitchen (don’t forget the oven). There was a check mark next to the kitchen and a double check mark next to the oven. He turned the paper over in his hands, almost fearful to see if anything was written on the back. Thankfully, it was free of tasks.

“You don’t plan to do all of this today, do you?” Oscar asked.

Phillip popped back up from under the bed. He had a dusty box in his hands. “Remember this?” He grinned and removed the top of the box. The contents were stacked neatly.
“We haven’t watched these movies in a long time.”

“And we’ll never have to time do so again if you intend to get all this done.” Oscar flapped the paper at Phillip.

Phillip closed the box and shoved it to the side. He clambered to his feet, covered in dust and grime. The tendrils of a defunct spider web stuck to the outer curl of his ear.
Oscar plucked it away as soon as Phillip got near enough. “It’s spring,” Phillip said. He reached out his arms and they hugged. “I missed you.”

“I missed you too. This is a lot of effort.”

“I know, but I feel good. I’ve been wanting to get these things done.” Phillip kissed Oscar on the left cheek and then the right before planting one on the lips, mixing comic effect with honest affection. “Go take a nap and I’ll have it all sorted. And don’t worry about dinner. I bought all sorts of stuff for sandwiches. Even pickle spears for a garnish.”

Oscar hesitated, giving a noncommittal noise of indecision.

“Go rest,” Phillip directed. “You can help me clean out the garage tomorrow.”

“Okay.” Oscar squeezed Phillip in another hug, releasing a faint cloud of dust and he sneezed.

“Good health to you, kind sir,” Phillip said, then gave Oscar a push. “Now, go. I’ve got to plumb the depths of the closet, and you’re being an albatross.”

Oscar yawned twice on the way to the living room, and sneezed twice more. Cleaning the garage would be an interesting chore. If Phillip followed his usual course, they'd make a disaster of it, and then organize it like it was a masterful battle campaign. He’d have to go out and get a dust mask first. And find his allergy meds.