In Winter Courtship of Fur Bearing Critters, we learn from Craw that Jeremy was an ex convict and an ex conman, whom Craw had met panhandling on the streets of Boulder. When it was time to write Jeremy's story, I had to elaborate.
I'd already established Jeremy and Aiden as communicating mostly by bickering, so I needed to explain how that relationship had happened as well. What followed was How to Raise an Honest Rabbit, and you all loved it, and I was pleased.
You were not so happy in Knitter in his Natural Habitat
when Jeremy got beat the fuck up. I didn't know how to go to everybody and explain why that happened--but it wasn't something I'd just done because I wanted to see Jeremy and everybody else hurt.
And if there was going to be reckoning, there was going to be fallout, and that was going to be a whole other book.
And that's Blackbird.
The first chapter of Blackbird might seem a little drifty. I did that on purpose-- Jeremy is a little drifty. He's in a hospital, he's coming and going from reality, and for a couple of sequences, he doesn't realize that the words that he hears in his head when he talks aren't what he sounds like at all. So we see Jeremy at rock bottom. Positive he deserved what happened to him at the end of Knitter, terrified that his boy won't love him anymore, positive that he never deserved to be loved in the first place.
When we see him at the end we see him in his glory, and although it's not a roller coaster ride to get there, I hope it is at least a pleasant journey. I know that the ending made me cry-- and I was not expecting it to. It's happy, right? But, well, I think when you all get to see Jeremy change the soundtrack of his own life, you'll see why.
Oh yeah-- and we finally find out what happens to the floor safe.
(Oh-- btw-- ALL of the first Granby stories are now available in print in The Granby Knitting Menagerie-- for those of you who treasure your paper :-)
Blackbird at Dreamspinner
Blackbird at ARe
Blackbird at Amazon
Here's some reviews of folks who liked it:
Love Bytes Reviews
The Tipsy Bibliophile
The Novel Approach -- Now, you may want to notice that Rhys Ford (the inimitable and awesome!) and Lisa from TNA Reviews both conspired to help promote my book. I almost burst into tears this morning when Rhys put this on my FB timeline, but I had no idea they were going to do a giveaway. I'm thrilled and humbled, and I urge you to stop by this particular site and leave a comment on the giveaway post, because guys-- that was really awesome of them!
And here's an excerpt:
and Broken Strength
JEREMY STILLSON spent more time in the hospital after he stopped living a life of crime than he had before he’d quit. Given that his second hospital stay ever lasted over two months, he could safely say he was over the experience by the time he left for home.
If Craw hadn’t thrown a fit and begged and pleaded so that Jeremy could share a room with Ariadne, he never would have made it.
HIS FIRST week was hazy, just a confused mess of pain and voices and Aiden—Aiden—holding his hand a lot, his voice choked and messy. Jeremy had a lot of surgeries in those first days, which was a blessing, because he didn’t really have to make any decisions. Aiden and Craw made all of those decisions for him.
Sometime toward the end of the first week, he woke up abruptly, breaking out of a bleary dream of being locked in a box of pain.
“Boy! Boy! Aiden!” he called, because his one constant in the past three years had been his boy. At first his boy had been sarcastic and frustrated because Jeremy couldn’t seem to learn the ways of living an honest life, but that had changed, hadn’t it? Aiden had gone from frustrated to friendly, and then, in these past months, from friendly to more than friendly.
Why wasn’t Aiden next to him?
“Boy?” he asked the cold and alien darkness. Some of his teeth were missing, his mouth hurt like the blazes, and it was hard to talk. “If you’re gone for water, I could use some.” Because his mouth was dry and his entire body… it felt achy and creaky and everything, everything hurt, but that dry mouth, that was the thing that was making him craziest.
“Boy?” It was a woman’s voice, and Jeremy couldn’t figure out why a woman would be in his bedroom, his sweet little bedroom in his and Aiden’s tiny apartment. Jeremy loved that little apartment; it was safe, like a den or a warren, and you could fight the urge to run when you were safe.
“Honey, it’s me, Ariadne. We’re in the hospital, remember?”
Oh. Ariadne. Craw’s assistant and best friend. Spider-thin woman who liked to dye her hair bright red and who could knit lovely things like lace while yelling at “her boys” not to track sheep shit all over the store.
What was she doing here?
“Hey, Ariadne,” he said, feeling loopy. “How’s the baby coming?”
“Hanging in there,” she said weakly. She had pregnancy diabetes as well as high blood pressure. She was one of the most active people he knew, and she’d been on bed rest since Thanksgiving, which was….
When was Thanksgiving?
“What day is it?”
“December 20. You’ve been here around five days.”
Jeremy whimpered. “I don’t like hospitals,” he said nakedly, and he heard a noise. He tried to move his head, but his face was swathed in bandages and his body just hurt so bad. In a moment there was a rustling, and the sound of something being dragged, and then something else.
In another moment there was a softness near his cheek and the smell of the special soap Ariadne liked to buy from a crafter in Grand.
And then there was a pressure on his blessedly undamaged hand.
“I’m right here,” she said, and he moved his eyes just enough to see her wan and pale face in the light creeping in from the hallway.
“I don’t mean to be a bother,” he said, keeping his voice low in the hospital echo. The words were almost a cruel repeat of his first months spent at Craw’s farm and yarn mill, when he’d had one foot out the door and all of his earthly possessions packed and ready to bolt. The words “I don’t mean to be a bother,” had been code then, for “Don’t get attached to me, I’m not staying.”
“Well, it’s nice to have company,” Ariadne said quietly. “Keeps me from worrying so much about my little one here.”
Jeremy felt weak tears sliding down the sides of his face. “You shouldn’t have to worry,” he said sincerely. “You of all people should have a healthy, happy baby. You’re gonna stick around for it. That’s important.”
“I’ll be here for you too, okay, Jeremy?”
Jeremy nodded and tried not to be afraid. Bad things came out of the dark—fists and gunshots and the butt ends of pistols. Sharp needles and scalpels and that horrible, nauseating, free-floating feeling of anesthetic.
“I appreciate it,” he said, feeling dumb and helpless. “Just until my boy gets here.”
Oh no. He’d just called Aiden “his boy” when Ariadne and Craw weren’t entirely comfortable with the two of them yet. “Don’t tell Craw,” he mumbled. “But I really love that boy.”
“Craw’s fine with it,” Ariadne soothed, rubbing the back of his hand. “Craw and Aiden saved your life.”
“Yeah,” Jeremy said, remembering that terrifying moment when he’d heard the gunshot and thought it was the one that killed him. And then Aiden sobbing over him, yelling at him for going to defend their friend alone. “He cried for me. My boy shouldn’t ever cry for me.”
“We all cried, Jer,” Ariadne murmured into the darkness. “You’re going to have to take better care of yourself now that you’re meaning to stay.”
“Yeah, okay.” Jeremy was tired now, and the fact that he could smell his friend, feel her touch on his hand, that meant the world. “You… you’re not leaving anywhere tonight, are you?”
“No, baby. Right here.”
“Well, as long as you’re comfortable,” Jeremy said, and then he fell asleep.
SOMETHING HAPPENED. Something bad. Another surgery, maybe? Pain, confusion, more anesthesia—God, that shit made his stomach feel just raunchy. But it was over, and he was back in the bed, and he knew Ariadne was with him in the same room. He thought numbly that someone must have brought her bed over to his, because when he tried to turn and then stopped because it felt like a steel spike was lodged through his stomach, she was close enough to touch his shoulder as she soothed him.
“Aiden, hon, he’s awake. He was asking for you.”
“Boy.” The sound was a drawn-out syllable of relief. “Boy, you’re here.”
Jeremy felt a hot presence next to his shoulder, rough with razor stubble and tearful breath.
“Jeremy,” Aiden breathed.
Jeremy smiled a little. “Got used to you,” he mumbled. “You and me, we lived together. I loved that. It’s hard when you’re gone.”
“We still live together,” Aiden said, and the words relaxed Jeremy’s shoulders, helped the pain flow over him and drip away, just like the bag of fluid attached to his arm.
“We do? I don’t live here?”
“No, Jer. I moved into your apartment, remember? Except we’re gonna move.”
“Why do you have to move?” No! Oh no. Aiden couldn’t move out—not when Jeremy was thinking about starting a bank account and taking everything out of the safe. Including the mittens.
“Not me, Jeremy, us. You and me are going to move out. Ben is letting us buy his house now that he’s in with Craw.”
“Craw’s mad,” Jeremy said disconsolately.
The week after Thanksgiving, Aiden had told their boss at the fiber mill that they were together. Jeremy had been in the barn, feeding the animals and making sure everybody’s heater worked, and Aiden had come up behind him, wrapping those great brawny arms around Jeremy’s waist and kissing softly at the nape of his neck.
“Bad?” Jeremy asked. He’d heard the voices from outside the barn and the slam of the door as Craw stomped inside the house. Aiden had promised him—promised—his voice soft and insistent, that Jeremy would not be put on the spot because their three-year friendship had finally matured.
“He’s a stubborn bastard,” Aiden said into his ear. “Nothing new. He still thinks I’m his little brother.”
Jeremy’s shoulders drooped. “You were my little brother,” he said softly, stroking the rabbit in front of him. “Maybe I should just—”
Aiden’s arms tightened. “If you say it, Jer, you’ll break my heart.”
Jeremy closed his eyes then. “Anything,” he muttered. “Anything but that, boy. You understand? Not breaking your heart—that’s like my number-one priority.”
Aiden’s warmth at his back comforted him like a bale of straw, throwing his own body heat back at him with interest. Behind his closed eyes, Craw’s anger, the displeasure of the first man who had ever known him and shown kindness, dissipated, and there was only Aiden.
Aiden hadn’t been kind, not at first, but when the boy had grown, he’d become even better than kind. He’d become a gruff bastion of safety. Nothing would ever hurt Jeremy while Aiden stood guard. Jeremy trusted that.
But that didn’t change what happened next.
“SH,” AIDEN whispered now.
Jeremy must have lost time.
“Craw’s not mad?” Jeremy muttered. He heard Craw being mad. He was outside the hospital room somewhere.
“Oh, he’s mad, all right.” Ariadne’s dry voice soothed like a balm. “But not at you. Honey, Craw couldn’t stay mad at you. Certainly not after what you did.”
“What’d I do again?” That was what he thought, anyway. All his words were what he thought. But what they sounded like was worse, like he was talking through marbles.
“You… dammit, Jer, you—”
“Don’t be mad!” Jeremy couldn’t stand it if Aiden, his safety, his wolf, suddenly turned all his fierceness on Jeremy.
And then, to his horror, something worse happened.
He heard the noise first, the rasping of voice in Aiden’s throat, the choked sound of breath that wasn’t cut free soon enough. He moved his head slowly to his left and Aiden’s face had blotched deep purple, and his chin was folded like fabric.
“Boy,” he said helplessly, and Aiden shook his head and buried his face next to Jeremy’s on the pillow.
His shoulders shook like mountains as the earth crumbled beneath them. Jeremy reached up with the arm he knew had not been broken, and scrunched his hand in that dark-gold hair.
“I’m sorry,” Aiden sobbed. “I’m sorry, Jeremy, but I’m so damned mad.”
Jeremy moaned in his throat. “But I didn’t talk,” he protested, feeling weak. “I didn’t let them get Stanley!” The little yarn seller Gianni had fallen in love with. Jeremy owed Gianni—dammit, Johnny—and Stanley was his lover. Jeremy had done Gi—Johnny a solid, that was all.
“I didn’t talk,” he mumbled again, hoping to reassure, hoping to make Aiden feel better. “You can’t be mad if I didn’t talk.”
“Oh Jeremy,” Aiden groaned, looking up from the pillow, so close Jeremy could count the sleepless crimson branches in his eyes. “Why didn’t you run? Three years, you had one foot out the door. The mob comes, all set to kill you, and you couldn’t rabbit away?”
Jeremy ran his tongue around his mouth, trying to find where his teeth were and where they weren’t, so he could talk better. “You deserve better than a man who’d run,” he said, hoping that wasn’t too garbled.
Aiden’s face crumpled again, folded, and he shook his head. “I deserve you,” he mumbled. “I’ve wanted you for so long—and now, I’m so worried.”
“Don’t be worried,” Jeremy told him, thinking his voice sounded more like his voice now that he’d gotten his teeth figured out. “I’m not the guy who’d run.”
There was more to it than that, he thought as his eyes closed. His face hurt—he thought he might have bandages on it, because in front of his eyes were layers of things that infringed upon his vision. His pretty, pretty face, the thing his daddy had always said was his moneymaker, and now it was damaged, probably beyond repair.
“You’d better not run,” Aiden choked next to him. “You’d better not run. We’re subletting that house, Jeremy. We’re putting your name on a paper. We’re opening a bank account, and you’re meeting my parents.”
Jeremy woke up enough for that. “Not when I’m not pretty,” he complained.
Aiden’s voice grew flinty, like it used to do when Jeremy tried to shirk his chores. “Fuck pretty,” he snarled. “Fuck pretty, fuck it to hell. You’re mine, and I love you, and we don’t care about pretty. You understand?”
“Yeah, fine,” Jeremy sulked. “You be pretty for both of us. I’m already too old for you. Now I’m not pretty anymore. That’s fine.”
At that point something in his body gave a big fat throb, and his head clanged timpani with it, and he moaned from pain, because just that suddenly, it was drowning out all the other voices.
“Here, Jeremy,” Ariadne said, fumbling with the little red button near his hand. “Don’t mind him. He’s worried, and he feels bad ’bout not being there.”
“Don’t let him do that,” Jeremy mumbled. “My bad. So many things in life I had to make right. Don’t you see that, boy?”
But the morphine was potent and quick, and Jeremy’s mind and body were soon sliding around consciousness in the liquidy viscousness of pain and drugs and the firm belief that he’d had this coming all along.
JEREMY DIDN’T even know his real last name. He thought it might have been the one his father had died with, but even that was sort of a crapshoot. Oscar had been telling lies a lot longer than Jeremy had—even his “original” name might have been a lie.
As far as he knew, Jeremy had come into the world conning people. He was reasonably sure his parents had grifted their way out of the hospital bill when he was born. His mother was a hazy memory of bangly earrings and the smell of scotch, and his father had been more impressed with Jeremy’s benefits as a partner in crime than as a son.
Jeremy had hurt a lot of people before he’d just up and decided to be honest. He’d cheated women and children, hardworking men, college students alone in the world. And as hard as he’d worked at Craw’s fiber mill, as much effort as he’d put into being an honest man, he’d always felt like it wasn’t enough.
Nothing would ever be enough to make up for the man he’d been before Craw had found him, an ex-convict panhandling on the streets of Colorado.
Nothing would ever be enough to earn the love of the beautiful boy he’d been smitten with from the very beginning, when it probably wasn’t right that Jeremy had even noticed his beauty at all.
So when Aiden had invaded his space, invaded his home, made Jeremy notice the three years of friendship and attraction between them, Jeremy had accepted it, because he had no choice. Aiden was his boy—as long as Jeremy could stand not to run, he was helpless to do anything but to fall into his orbit.
It had been a tenuous gravitational shift, at first. Jeremy had always circled around Aiden; from the first moment he’d seen the boy working in Craw’s mill, Jeremy had wanted to be nearer to him. But Jeremy was older, and dumber, and he was sure his soul had shriveled, a withered flower with roots in an oil spill, twisted almost since birth.
He was a bad man. Bad men did not deserve to orbit near the bright and shining sun that was his boy. It wasn’t until Aiden proved he had interesting shadows, dark spots in the sun, was a wolf and not a lapdog, that Jeremy even dared to dream.
They’d had a month, almost two, during which Aiden spent most nights in Jeremy’s little apartment. The past few weeks, he’d been there full-time, all of his clothes in boxes, new towels from his mother in the bathroom, his favorite cereal in the cupboards. Just a breath, just a taste of having Aiden there in his home, as his home, and then….
Well, Jeremy had debts to pay. When one of them called him up in a panic, Jeremy had to pony up.
JEREMY WOKE up the next day actually feeling like a person. How did that happen? One minute you were free floating, a specter in a hospital bed, hearing people talk about you, drifting to escape the pain, and the next time you opened your eyes, it was you, in your body, anchored to the sheets by stuff that your body did.
“Aiden?” he murmured. Aitbhen. That was what it sounded like. “Jebuth thfuckin’ krith—when bo I ge’ my fhfuckin’ teef?”
Craw had a deep, growly bear voice, and his unmistakable laughter echoed over Jeremy’s head. “Today, actually,” he said. “You get fitted for them, anyway. You didn’t have any dental records, Jeremy. We had to wait until the swelling in your jaw went down to make a model.”
Jeremy remembered that. In fact, he realized that some of the difficulty he’d had talking actually had to do with his jaw still being wired shut.
“Whab bay ith ib?” Oh man, the more conscious he was, the worse he sounded. He felt like he could finally hear what he was actually saying instead of what he thought he was saying.
“You’ve been here for a week,” Craw said. “We’re going to take some plasters for your teeth and unwire your jaw. They’ll be changing the bandages on your face today and seeing if you need cosmetic surgery.”
“Aiden?” He had to work hard, but it sounded right.
“I made him go home today, Jer. He was dead on his feet.”
Jeremy closed his eyes in relief. “Good. He won’ thee me.”
Craw made a hurt sound. “Don’t worry about Aiden seeing you, okay? He’s always seen you.”
“When I wath preddy.”
Craw growled. “All the crap I gave that boy about you two being together and you’re telling me you’re going to take it back because of a little blood?”
Jeremy had been beaten, talking the whole time, so that guy beating him wouldn’t find Stanley. Suddenly meeting Craw’s eyes was not quite as hard as he’d thought it would be, that not-so-long-ago day when he’d listened to Craw and Aiden argue.
“We bode know ith more.”
And Craw, who didn’t know how to bullshit, shifted his green-brown eyes away. “Have faith,” he said gruffly. “Ben found me, Stanley found Johnny, Aiden found you. Have faith.”
If Jeremy could have talked more, he would have spun sunshine and rabbit crap about how sure, a man had to have faith, and maybe, under a sunny sky, he’d have enough faith for them all. He would have said that faith is a wonderful thing, but it was better to have faith when you had a plan of escape, and that once you had a way out, you could have all the faith you wanted.
But it was all a big, fat, painful, throbbing lie. Aiden would never forgive him for not calling for help, and Jeremy had no hope that he ever could. Jeremy could lie like a champion with his words, but his eyes—well, as a con man he’d had to squint a lot, because his eyes had been touch and go. He’d had to believehis bullshit to lie with his eyes.
And now he couldn’t use his words, and his eyes were all he had. He looked at Craw mutely, no con between them, just the painful, painful truth.
Craw nodded, and for a moment his lower lip trembled. “I’ll have faith,” he whispered. “That boy has always known his own mind and been strong about getting his way. He wanted you, I guess, and I admit, when I saw that it was real and not just you two bickering like you were married, I had second thoughts. But….” Oh no. Craw’s voice was wobbling. “Jeremy, we’ve been worried. They say you’ll probably be okay, but the lot of us, we’ve been worried. You’re our family, boy.” He swallowed. “I’ll have faith for the two of you.”
Jeremy closed his eyes then, tight, because they were burning. “’Kay,” he mumbled through a mouth full of missing teeth. “I’ll bind tum ob my own.”
“Good man,” Craw told him. Then the doctor came in, and unpleasant things happened with his mouth and dental tools, and in his head he was in Craw’s field with a piece of clover in his mouth, sitting on a rock in the sunshine, warm under the golden sky, teased by the breeze, watching Aiden herd the sheep.