When Galvin Cloud, a shy young journalist, is unexpectedly offered a chance to interview his favorite author, he ought to be delighted. Instead, he’s terrified. Galvin has always idolized Spike Radcliff, but the idea of actually meeting him face-to-face is overwhelming. Furthermore, despite the sensitivity of his prose, Spike has a reputation for being a surly, reclusive misanthrope. Still, Galvin knows he can’t pass up this rare chance.
After the disastrous interview, Spike surprises Galvin by offering him a job as his assistant. As they spend more time together, Galvin discovers that beneath the harsh exterior is a complex, broken man… one with whom he’s quickly falling in love.
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Copyright ©2022 AJ Graham
Galvin couldn’t sleep, but that was nothing new.
These days, the pills did little more than blur his thoughts. He’d spent far too many nights staring at the vaguely dragon-shaped water stain on his ceiling.
Rain trickled down the window, a steady drone mingled with the occasional rumble of thunder which his MP3 player couldn’t quite drown out.
It had been raining that night, too. His gaze strayed to the calendar on his wall, lingering on the date of November 13. Just a day. But somehow, it never got any easier.
He pulled out his earbuds and sighed. He had work tomorrow. He needed sleep. But reminding himself of all the reasons he should be asleep inevitably just made it harder.
Finally giving in, he rolled onto his side and reached for the book on his nightstand. Its edges were worn, its spine was faded and creased from being read and reread countless times.
Smoke. Spike Radcliff’s first novel.
On nights like this, when the hours stretched into a lifetime and the loneliness became unbearable, he often found himself reaching for that tattered paperback, the same copy he’d found in a used bookstore five years ago. By now, reading it was like slipping into an old, comfy sweater. Kind of a strange way to think about a book that dealt with such dark subject matter, but then, all Spike’s books were like that. They were harsh. Ugly, sometimes. But despite all the blood and mud and dirty needles, there was always a shining thread of hope running through them, the promise that someone could go through hell and come out again, wounded but alive.
Galvin stretched out on his bed and opened the book. The opening lines were already branded into his memory, but he read them anyway: Sammy stepped off the bus and breathed in the hot, moist night air. In his pocket, he had two hundred dollars and an address scribbled on a folded piece of paper, worn and damp from the caresses of his sweaty fingers. It had been almost a full day since he’d eaten or slept, but he was filled with a crazy, burning excitement. He was free.
He fell easily into the familiar rhythm of the sentences and devoured page after page.
Galvin had always identified with Sammy — with his desperate hunger for a place to belong, for the arms of someone who would make him feel safe and wanted. When the story started, he’d just fled his abusive home to live with a friend in New Orleans, but the address turned out to be an empty building. And then he was alone, nearly penniless, and stranded in a place he knew nothing about. Before long, he was sleeping in alleys and doorways.
Galvin felt a pang of recognition at the stark descriptions of loneliness, of being the outsider — doors slamming, people turning away and hurrying past — and the longing for someone, anyone, to stretch out a hand and offer some simple kindness. When someone finally did, he was too relieved to feel the jaws of a trap closing around him. Sammy fell in with a bad crowd and got addicted to heroin, which kept pulling him back to that crowd, even when he tried to break free. He started doing desperate things for money.
Galvin found himself skimming ahead to his favorite scene, the one where Sammy finally found a true friend; a quiet, stammering, tender-hearted poet who literally found him in the gutter and took him in.
The idea of rescue had always been seductive to Galvin. His psychologist, back when he could afford one, kept reminding him that it was merely a fantasy. He needed to stay focused on the things he could control. He knew she was right. Hope could be a dangerous drug. But even so, a part of him still dreamed that someday, when he most needed it, there would be a pair of strong and loving arms waiting to enfold him. And then, finally, he could relax — he could surrender to this soul-deep exhaustion and just breathe.
Galvin kept reading.
Sammy fell in love with his rescuer, of course. But happy endings were never that easy. There followed a cycle of rehab, relapses, grim, determined struggles, and finally light at the end of the tunnel. Sammy got clean and stayed with the man who, by that point, had become his lover and his best friend.
It was like a fucked-up fairy tale, complete with happily ever after. Or at least, as close to happily ever after as real life ever got.
Galvin closed his eyes and held the book against his chest.
The first time he’d read it, he’d stayed up all night, too — dry-mouthed, gulping, turning pages, almost wanting to stop reading because he was certain it would end in despair and darkness. The next day, he’d gone out and bought the sequels, Dust and Blur.
He turned the book over and stared at the black and white author’s photo on the back cover. Spike was standing outside, clad in a long black coat, dark hair windblown, a cigarette clasped between two fingers. He was looking off to the side, as if unaware of the cameraman. The picture was small and grainy, but still, something about it always made Galvin stare. From reading articles about Spike Radcliff, he knew that he had an almost superstitious aversion to cameras. This was probably one of the few photos of him in existence.
And Galvin liked looking at it… probably more than he should. He reached out and lightly ran a fingertip over it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
AJ Graham has a passion for cold weather, unusual beers, and anything otherworldly. Dragons, demons, shapeshifters and psychics have always populated their imagination, but sometimes the real world can be just as fascinating and mysterious. And no matter the genre, AJ has always loved stories about soulmates connecting. Whether it’s instant, explosive passion or a slow burn, the power of two (or more) minds and bodies coming together to form a greater whole is always a story worth telling. AJ lives in the Chicago suburbs with their husband.