Doug & Neal

an excerpt

Chapter One

Doug turned into his grandmother's driveway and brought the rented truck to a halt. He shook his head at what greeted him. Pink flamingos. Seriously, Grandma? Pink flamingos? He sighed. Did they even have flamingos outside of Florida?

Apparently his grandmother did. Grandmother Noel was a tad eccentric by most standards, and his favorite person in the world. And the first thing he was doing was plucking those crazy birds out of the ground and putting them away.

He hit a speed dial on his cell. "Hey babe," he said when Ryan answered.

"Make it safe and sound?" There was humor in his voice and it warmed Doug to know Ryan was there for him.

"Landed and have arrived. I'll call when I can. I don't doubt we'll lose power and cell but I'll call as often as I can."

"No problem, sweetness. Take care of Grandmama Noel and I'll see you when you get home. Miss you."

"Miss you, too." He sighed, meaning every word. "Bye."


He ended the call. Getting out of the truck, he shouldered his overnight bag and grabbed his carryon by the handle out of the truck bed. He figured he'd be there at least a week, if not longer. He'd packed enough for almost three weeks if he had to stretch, especially if power took a while. Washing laundry wasn't going to be easy without it. At the door, he rang the doorbell and waited.

The inner door opened and his grandmother beamed. "Doug!"

"Hi, Grandma." He moved aside to let her open the outer glass door and leaned close to get a huge kiss. "I'm here." It never failed, even though he stood over her now, he always felt eight years old around this lady.

"I see that. Go put your bags in the spare."

He did as asked, meandering through the smallish home to the second bedroom. At almost eighty, Grandma Noel was still as spry as a spring chicken. She played bingo, gardened, and volunteered every week for the Ladies Auxiliary, and utterly believed conformity was for the birds. The bold pink stripe in her hair was proof of that. Age was a number, and hers didn't matter. It was one of the reasons he loved her so much. Doug didn't doubt all that activity and youthfulness was what was keeping her going strong. She just wasn't able to prepare for the coming storm on her own, thus, his enlisted aid.

He plopped his heavier bag on the bed, looking around the room. He'd been there a lot over the years and knew nothing had really changed. His grandmother happened to like this particular color of blue that defied naming, so there was a lot of it in this room. His grandfather had put his foot down when he was alive to not have it in the master bedroom. Doug kind of understood his point.

"Are you hungry?" she asked, coming up behind him in the doorway.

"Not yet, but thank you." He faced her. "Have you seen the weather reports?"

"Oh my, yes." She put a light hand to her face. "That stupid storm. It's going to give us a good walloping."

He blew out a breath. Yeah, that's what he'd heard, too. "Okay. Well, that's why I got the truck, so we can get you plywood to cover the windows and anything else that won't fit in your car."

At least she had a two-car detached garage. So long as that held, the rental would be safe inside.

"Do you have enough food for the next week? Stuff that can be eaten without being heated?" A cooler and ice would work for a few days if the world stopped.

"I think so. Really all I need is water to take my medications," she explained.

"Grandma," he chided, chuckling. "You have to eat, too."

She harrumphed at him, laughing. "Well, of course I do! I meant that I can rough it."

He nodded, but didn't argue. Young at heart was one thing. He wasn't going to risk her health no matter how resilient she thought she was.

"Okay, well let's make up a list or two and see what you have. Are Granddad's tools still out in the garage?"

"Under his work shelf. I kept a lot of those because I knew they'd be needed." She frowned. "Just hadn't thought it would be for a hurricane."

"Life is full of surprises," he agreed. He followed her from the bedroom then veered off for the garage. Sunlight between the two buildings didn't tell the story of the pending storm correctly, but at least they had time to get his grandmother's house stabilized. The burr of work was already taking place up and down the street as people prepared for the torrential rain and harsh winds.

Opening the door, he turned on the light taking in the frozen in time aura of the space. He could still see his granddad futzing around his work bench, tinkering with some little bit of who knew what, something only he knew what it was. He'd enjoyed working on small motors and engines in his retirement and would often repair them for neighbors just for the sake of having things to work on. The smaller hand tools were hung with care on a pegboard above while the larger ones, the ones he needed, were on a shelf beneath.

He gathered the small crowbar, hammers, measuring tapes and anything else he thought he might need in his hands.

His phone rang before he was done in the garage. Juggling tools, he unclipped it. "Hello?"

"Hey. Did you make it okay?"

Doug chuckled. "Hey, Shawn. Yeah. Safe and sound." He could hear the worry under his tone.

"Watching these weather reports is insane."

"Earthquakes and four-month-long fires are better?"

Shawn huffed. "Okay, you have me there. Just be careful. Give a shout if you need anything from me."

"I will. Thanks. I'll be back when this is all over."

"Not worried about that," Shawn replied.

Doug was relieved to get that answer. Without a set in stone day to return he didn't want to take any chances, but Shawn was his department head and if he said it was cool, then... He was luckier than many. He was supposed to be teaching first year music composition classes to new students. Instead, he was on the East Coast, getting ready for the hugest hurricane to hit in a decade. "Okay. I'll give you guys a call in a few days."

"Do that. Take care."

"Thanks." They hung up and Doug smiled, grateful for not only a boyfriend who cared, but friends who gave a damn. He'd been working with Shawn at the community college for almost three years. They were close work friends, and he was glad for that.

Shawn taught basic music comprehension and supervised the music department while Doug taught music composition. There was nothing more fun than Shawn playing guitar with Doug on the piano. They'd spent hours just goofing off, playing music and laughing.

He didn't know a lot about Shawn's background, only that he'd made some major changes once he'd moved to Arbor Heights from LA, about two years before he'd been hired at the school.

He knew Shawn was in a committed relationship--he'd overheard conversations on the phone. Not intentionally, but when you hear baby and love you, a person assumes. He knew whoever had Shawn was a lucky man.

Gathering up tools again, he managed to secure the garage and carry everything into the house without dropping anything.

He found his grandmother in the kitchen, sitting at the table, drinking a cup of tea.

"Find what you needed?"

"I think so. Did you want to go to the store with me?"

"Do you mind if I don't? My shows are coming on."

Doug smiled. "That's okay. Let's make up a list of what we need. Hopefully the home supply store won't be sold out already."

About an hour later, he was driving to the closest big box store to buy boards and supplies. With those purchased, he returned to start reinforcing windows and removing things from the yard to store in the garage.

The next morning, the sky was still cloudless, but there was a pressure in the air that hadn't been there the day before. The first signs of the coming hurricane could be felt on his skin. Almost everyone he passed looked to the east, into the sky. They knew it as well as he did. Lauris was coming.

A grocery store run was on the list, along with making sure the ice chest was cleaned out and ready to use. Going to the store proved to be an adventure in survival all its own. Shelves were being stripped clean and bottled water was almost as precious as gasoline.

As the hours ticked down and the day faded, the sense that something was coming, just out of sight, grew. A disquiet hung in the air like nature was holding its breath. Every house on the street had boarded up windows, making the neighborhood look like a ghost town. Everything loose had been removed from yards. Decorations were taken down from awnings and portico roofs. Tarps covered vegetation and were either staked to the ground or weighted down. Doug only had a few more small details. They'd be as ready as they could be when he was done, just waiting for the first surge.

They were eating breakfast the next morning when there was a knock on the door.

His grandmother stood to answer it and a moment later returned, followed by a man Doug didn't know.

She said, "Doug, this is my neighbor, Neal. He came to make sure I was ready."

Doug stood from the table and offered a hand. "Nice to meet you."

"Are you hungry, Neal?" she asked.

The other man smiled and waved her off. "No. I already ate, but thank you. I wanted to let you know that if you need me, I'll be next door."

"You're not going in to the hospital?" she asked, pouring a glass of tea and handing it to him just the same, ignoring his refusals.

"No, at least not right now."

"What do you do?" Doug asked, taking his seat to finish eating.

"Sit," she invited and Neal did, joining them at the table. He cradled his tea between his palms, relaxed as they talked.

"I'm a triage nurse at Hempstead Main, an RN."

"Oh? I would think that would be where they'd want you during an emergency like this." Doug cleaned his plate, trying not to look like he was starving at the same time. He loved his grandmother's waffles.

"I just came off my rotation, so I'm actually on my downtime. It just worked out that the hurricane is coming now, too."

When he was done, Doug walked to the sink to give his plate a rinse. "Is there anything you need help with at your place?" It seemed like a neighborly kind of thing to offer if he needed help with any last preparations.

Neal grew thoughtful. "No, I think I've got it all ready. What about you guys?"

"Covering the back windows today."

"Would you like some help?" He drank some of the tea in his tumbler.

Doug didn't think his grandmother would care if he asked for a little help. "I won't turn down a second pair of hands."

"Okay. Let me change into something I can work in. I'll be right back."

After he'd left, Doug said, "He seems like a nice guy."

His grandmother smiled. "He checks on me using little excuses so he thinks I don't know what he's doing. He's a very nice man." She gave a sideways glance. "He's single."

Doug chuckled. She knew perfectly well Doug was in a relationship. "And I'm not."

She gave him a dismissive shrug. He kissed her cheek. "Let me get what we need out of the garage. I'll be in the backyard."

"Okay," she said.