Title: Spritzer: A Sparkling Gay Romance
Author: Jon McDonald
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: March 27
Heat Level: 1 – No Sex
Genre: Romance, LGBT, gay, bisexual, contemporary, enemies to lovers, humorous, romance
Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to have Jon McDonald here today to celebrate the release of his new book, Spritzer: A Sparkling Gay Romance. He’s brought a remarkable short story along with him for our readers, in addition to an excerpt and giveaway. Welcome, Jon!
Jon McDonald: Here’s a short story from another of my NineStar books, Gotta Dance with the One Who Brung Ya.
There was a seam on the roadway crossing the bridge, such that when a car passed over, it sent a thump thump echoing underneath. When it was busy during the day, the thump thumps came frequently, overlapping and creating a thunder that echoed along the riverbank. During the night, the sound came infrequently and accented the stillness.
It was going to be a very cold Christmas Eve—with the scent of snow already in the air—and there had been a few flurries as the afternoon gathered into dusk before the clutch of night took its frigid hold.
Rainbow and Gal were huddled around their meager fire, kept alive by scavenging the riverbank for anything that would burn—hopefully through the entire night. Their few belongings were stacked up like sandbags around a foxhole to help keep out the needles of icy wind. The tips of their fingers poked out through worn gloves as they fumbled with a dented pot to heat water so they could use the damaged Ramen Noodle Soup packet scrounged from a dumpster behind the 7–Eleven . Maybe Gal would wait till midnight to give Rainbow his gift—a short flask of brandy that Gal had saved for from a week of panhandling when Rainbow wasn’t around.
In country, the coppers flew overhead like crazy-wheeling drunks—thump thump, thump thump. Rainbow was Corporal Edward Declan Connelly—Boston Irish. So raw he still thought they were fighting the enemy for the good of the country. He was called Rainbow because he was that way. His best and only buddy was Gal—short for Gallagher but also because he was perceived to be Rainbow’s gal. They had soon found each other despite the monsoons, the mud, the lousy food, the blood, the moans, the endless boredom, and the constant rain of shells—thump thump, thump thump. They managed, however, to get away together now and then for half an hour, hidden amongst the sacks of flour in the storeroom behind the mess. Time so precious and ever so brief, their hearts—thump thump, thump thump.
After the slaughter was over, and they were shipped home and dumped on the streets of LA, they stayed together. Somewhat broken, keenly cunning, resourceful as two feral cats, together they opened a shop repairing typewriters and small business machines. Then came the computer. They struggled, tried to adapt, created more debt to stay afloat, and finally had to flee in the dead of night in their broken-down Pontiac to the Rocky Mountain west. Their car barely made it across the Continental Divide—thump thump.
They never completely recovered. Too many demons. Too much alcohol. Inner wounds too tender. But they stayed together through it all. There was never one without the other through many decades, many journeys, many disappointments.
* * * * *
“Deck, oh Deck. I can’t believe you’re still abed. And this being Christmas morning and all.” His mother called him Deck, not Eddie. But he didn’t want to stir. The room was cold—the covers warm, scooched up tight around his head, cradling his ear. Only his susceptible eyes and nose were exposed to the bite from the window slightly ajar. He promised he’d get up at the count of ten.
“Eight, nine, nine and a half, nine and three quarters…”
* * * * *
“Soup’s ready.” Gal offered Rainbow the watery, soft noodles.
It was dark now. The fire glowed and sputtered. Gal put on a few more pieces of wood from a broken table someone had tossed onto the riverbank rather than take to the dump. They ate in silence.
Thump thump. Rainbow’s mind wandered to the sleeper car his family was taking to Chicago to visit his grandmother; snuggled in his berth, eyes almost closed. Thump thump. The sound of the train lulled him toward sleep. Thump thump. He always watched for that moment when waking turns into sleep like a snake gliding silently into water. But he could never quite grasp it—it always just slipped away. Thump thump, thump thump.
Gal always cooked. Rainbow always cleaned—tonight taking their few bowls and cooking pot down to the stream to wash up. With tonight’s cold, it was hard to find any running water, and Rainbow had to hack at some ice to find the little trickle to serve his need. Though poor and without much provision, they were both meticulous about keeping clean—their persons and their possessions. Rainbow carefully rinsed the pot and bowls and climbed back up the bank to their shelter under the bridge. He stored the utensils and scooted up close to Gal, sitting by the fire.
“Here, let me warm you,” Gal whispered as he straddled Rainbow from behind, wrapping his blanket around the both of them. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his gift. “I know it’s not quite Christmas yet but thought you could use this now.” He opened the brandy and handed it to Rainbow. Rainbow bowed his head in gratitude and offered the first sip to Gal.
They sat like that for some time, drinking quietly, the cars overhead passing less often now. Thump…thump.
Rainbow was the first to notice the child—six, maybe seven. The way the boy stood at the edge of the bridge it looked as though he was lit from within, but of course, Rainbow thought, it had to be the play of the streetlight against the ice reflecting up from the river below.
“Gal…” Rainbow breathed so softly it could hardly be heard. Gal looked up and saw the child now holding out both his hands filled with Christmas cookies.
“For you,” the child said softly.
* * * * *
Eddie continued his countdown, “Nine, nine and a half, nine and three quarters. Nine and seven-eighths…”
“Edward Declan Connelly, I am not going to call you again,” his mother boomed from the kitchen.
“Oh boy, she means business now.” Eddie knew that for sure. And for just a minute longer he savored the warmth of the covers trying to drag him back into sleep. But then he could smell the wafting scents of Christmas—oatmeal, apples, cinnamon, brown sugar. And there were tangerines, coffee, and bacon sizzling on the stove. He bounded up and out of bed, shut tight the window, and still in his pajamas with the fuzzy feet, faced the light pouring through the door and quietly walked toward his mother.
* * * * *
The police cruiser was parked on the bridge, the lights blinking and swirling. Thump thump. Two officers were responding to a call from a pedestrian who believed he had spotted something suspicious under the bridge. The officers scrambled down the riverbank and peered. It was dim and hard to see. There were the remains of a fire still smoldering, sending up curls of smoke like lazy spirits going home. And there, huddled together and covered with a thin blanket, were the bodies of two men locked in a tight embrace, drifted snow cradling their faces.
“Oh jeeze,” one of the officers commented. “Looks like we got ourselves a couple of stiffs. Better call it in.”
The second officer stared uncomfortably at the bodies. “Will you look at that,” he said. “Two guys in each other’s arms. So desperate to keep warm they had to resort to that.” Thump thump.
Spritzer Vallier is the manager of a large commercial jug winery in Northern California. The new owner, Spritzer’s great-aunt Del, wants to make a quality champagne as well as the cheap wine that is the bedrock of their business. Being a down-to-earth, no-nonsense guy, Spritzer resists Del’s fantastic idea. However, she insists and hires Michel, a French champagne master, to direct the setup of the new venture for four years until Spritzer can take over the running of the winery by himself.
Spritzer and Michel must work closely together and right from the beginning it is clear there will be fireworks. Michel tends towards arrogance and control. Spritzer resents Michel’s authority and demands, and is a bit of a stubborn hot-head.
Keeping the two in check is Del—steady, caring, and wise, she directs the two toward the accomplishment of her dream.
Storms, accidents, and money problems plague the progress of the new winery, but eventually Michel and Spritzer work their way towards a successful conclusion to their efforts. But fate seems to have another destination for them as well, as they begin to fall in love with each other.
Spritzer: A Sparkling Gay Romance
Jon McDonald © 2017
All Rights Reserved
Spritzer Vallier stood in contemplation, gazing at the strange sight before him—a couple of dozen or more folks, dressed mostly in black, standing at the crest of a hill overlooking a Sonoma vineyard. It stretched out below them as far as one could see in every direction; rows and rows of cultivated grape vines, marching neatly in their straight lines. The early morning mists slowly evaporated in the warmth of the climbing morning sun.
Spritzer ran a hand through his dark, curly, unkempt hair, distracted from the immediacy of the memorial service for his recently departed great-uncle Tom, as his mind wandered to the urgent need to be harvesting the glowing, ripe grapes spread out before him. There is a moment when the grapes’ sugars are at their peak, and any delay might harm a season’s harvest. Spritzer had checked the sugar levels in the grapes just yesterday afternoon and decided that they should start the harvest today. But Aunt Del, Tom’s sister, had already arranged for the memorial service to be held this very morning.
He shook himself free from those thoughts, and turned his attention back to the droning priest. Spritzer was standing between his great-aunt Del—short for Deloris—and his childhood buddy, and occasional girlfriend, Kan. He turned to his aunt and squeezed her arm, as the priest extolled her brother’s many virtues.
“Are you holding up all right?” Spritzer asked gently.
Del looked over and smiled. “It’s still hard to believe he’s gone.”
Kan—blonde, lean, and tomboyish—leaned into Spritzer and whispered, “Nice service, don’t you think?”
Spritzer turned to her and said, “Yeah, yeah. But look at all those fuckin’ grapes. The old man would kick off just when I need to start the harvest, right?”
Just then, a biplane approached from behind the gathering, flew low over the heads of the crowd, and began to spray the vineyard.
Kan looked puzzled. “Isn’t this an odd time to be spraying insecticide, for Christ’s sake?”
“That’s not insecticide, that’s Uncle Tom,” Spritzer answered, with a flash of his quirky grin. Kan looked at him questioningly. “Some people want their ashes at sea. Uncle Tom…” He gestured toward the vineyard.
“Yuck. It’s going all over the grapes. What’s that going to do to the wine?”
Spritzer thought about that for a moment, then answered. “Probably make the horrid supermarket plonk we produce a hell of a lot better than it was when he was alive.”
Kan laughed and turned back to the service.
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Jon McDonald lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He has seven published novels, a memoir, and three children’s books. His short stories have appeared in a number of prestigious publications. He considers himself a genre-bending author—he loves to take an established literary genre, play with it, and turn it on its head. He has lived abroad and traveled extensively.
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