GENRE: Gay Mystery Romance
LENGTH: 34,980 words
Spring has sprung, and with it, smiley faces. When yellow crocuses bloom all over town in the shape of an emoji during April’s first warm days, reporter Nero Storm is sent out to discover their meaning and origin.
Nero has little to smile about himself, what with dysfunctional family drama and a tragic love life. The previous fall, it seemed as if he might have finally met the man of his dreams in dog daddy, ride share operator, and charity organizer Z. Though the two spent but ten morning and evening car rides together, sparks flew. Unfortunately, at the end of that time, Nero witnessed a crime, and Z disappeared.
Now, as the rest of the world looks forward to a new beginning promised by spring, Nero is left to wonder. Are the smiley face flowers a message for him, and will he ever see Z’s smile again for real?
The dogs were happy walking at first, until Abby decided she wanted to rest. At least she plopped down near a bench, so Z and I could sit.
“Up, Moose.” Z patted his lap, and the miniature pincher obeyed. More or less. He leapt up into mine. “Loyalty. Pish.” Z kissed both my head and Moose’s. “I can move him if you can’t abide his pushiness.”
“He’s fine, as long as you let Abby sit on your lap, if the mood strikes her.”
“Umm.” Z sized her up. “Okay?”
“Maybe back at my place.” I turned to him and took his hand. “Maybe in bed ... after alone time?”
“That sounds perfect.”
Z made no move to get up, though, possibly due to the beauty of the sunset. Gray and pink above, a dense fog crept in at the coolest part of the park, because of the temperature differential, and it was all quite striking. “I love nights like this,” I said, “when the sound of croaking toads and the smell of thick air hearkens back to summer, but the crisp chill means fall is ready to chase it off.”
“Hmm.” Z’s eyes were closed. His head rested on the top of the bench back and swayed just slightly, as if there was music in his soul.
“And yes, I said ‘hearkens.’”
“It’s a good word.”
“What are you thinking?” I wanted to know.
“I keep closing my eyes to remember the sunrise we shared.”
“It’s selfish, maybe -- greedy -- when I should live in the moment of the beautiful twilight. But somehow, I want both at once, to feel both at once. All of it, the sunrise, the sunset, and you.”
I held him tighter. “Can you?”
With my eyes closed, I went back to that morning when we watched the horizon brighten on a new day. I remembered Z’s touch. I felt it. “Yes.”
“Keep it. Hold on.”
My eyes flew open. “There’ll be more.” I lost my grip on him. “I hope there will be.”
“I do, too. Just stay a moment, Nero.” Z grappled for my hand again. “Feel it some more.”
I closed my eyes again and tried. Now, something felt off, though.
We only sat a few minutes more. One of us was restless. Both of us, maybe. “I should go.” Z rose. “As much as I don’t want to move, I have to check the grounds. I promised to leave the park as I found it.”
With the lights around us now coming on, the last minute stragglers finally started to pack up, my parents among them.
“I’ll catch up to you.” We lingered in a kiss. Now, Z wanted more, holding my face in both hands, staring into my eyes.
“Yes,” he said. My neck, my shoulder, my bare arm, and finally fingertips, he took his time with his touch. “We’ll find each other.”
Though I’d ignored Mom and Dad most of the day, when Z and I eventually parted, so he and Moose could make their final rounds, I headed over to the Summer Storm’s booth, to help carry things to the car. “How’d you do?” I asked Mom, as we chatted while we walked.
“I think we made some connections,” she said. “We’ll definitely be getting a couple catering jobs out of it.”
“Waste of money,” Dad muttered.
“I’ll take the leftovers for Z,” I said.
“You could have introduced us,” Toni told me, her expression not terribly friendly, at least not until she crouched to pet Abby.
“He was busy most of the day. He put this all together.”
“And raked in big bucks by the looks of it.” Dad nodded toward the table where the money can overflowed with bills.
“All for charity,” I reminded him. “It’s not Z’s money. Come on. Let’s get the car loaded so you can get out of here.” If it seemed like I was rushing them, I was. My father next to a can with cash spilling out the top wasn’t a good thing in my racing and suspicious mind. I also couldn’t wait to get back to Z.