Title: V is for Valentine
Author: Thomas Grant Bruso
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: 02/06/2024
Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, family-drama, interracial, gay, small town, homophobia, Valentine’s Day
Bradley James Winterbottom has a bigger-than-life dilemma this Valentine’s Day. He is bringing his new boyfriend, Ronnie, home to meet his parents for the first time.
After a few years away, Bradley’s mother, Marla, and father, Harold, have summoned their only son back to the small-knit town of Holly Springs in upstate New York for a Valentine’s Day family gathering.
Bradley is thrilled to see his parents after all these years. When he arrives, however, he notices the years have taken a toll on them. They have aged significantly, and Bradley is shocked when he sees their time-worn faces and meandering gaits. Harold has had heart surgery in the past, but recently, he has been experiencing complications. He is not the workhorse he used to be, fidgeting in the tool shed and repairing projects around the house.
Spending a few days under the roof of his childhood home, where he used to live with his extended family, Bradley notices significant changes. But some things, like his childhood bedroom and the homey surroundings, still look and feel the same as if he never left.
Bradley knows coming home is a place of tranquility and comfort, but life is not always sunny and rosy, as he and Ronnie soon discover through the ups and downs of small-town life.
V is for Valentine
Thomas Grant Bruso © 2024
All Rights Reserved
“Mom. Dad. This is Ronnie.”
I turned to Ronnie standing next to me in the wood-paneled living room in my childhood home in Holly Springs, where I ate my favorite fruity curly-Q cereal as a kid in front of the TV while watching Saturday morning cartoons.
I looked to my father, Harold, who sat in his sunken, timeworn recliner, tucked in the cozy corner, fire roaring and popping in the stone hearth behind him, reading the Holly Springs Weekly. A single strand of his silvery-white hair curled over the dog-eared edge of the newspaper. I noticed him staring and surveying Ronnie and me with his usual self-possessed judgment. “This is the grocery bagger?” he asked me, a hint of sarcasm in his deadpan delivery.
He spoke as if to cast a final verdict, a blatant, offhanded ruling of who I should love or date. My father’s thunderous statement rattled me like the aftermath of last week’s unexpected and powerful earthquake, a preliminary magnitude of 5.1 on the upstate New York Richter scale.
My father’s googly, buggy stare magnified into a reptilian grasshopper gaze through the prescription lenses of his new reading glasses as he sized up Ronnie from the mop of his dark hair down to his gym-rat frame.
I shot my dad an equally downright insulting what-the-fuck look.
My mother, Marla, still in her pink, frilly bathrobe and curlers coiled around her hair, recently dyed an unconvincing shit brown by the septuagenarian group of gossipy women at the beauty shop downtown, sat beside my father on the adjacent futon sofa bed, pretending to finish her crossword in her puzzle book and ignoring my dad’s wicked, old-school sense of humor.
My mother’s homespun hospitality, for which she was known in the tight-knit Holly Springs community of 10,900 residents, fell on deaf ears.
I jammed my hands deeper into my short pockets. Sweat greased the furrowed lines on my receding forehead.
I looked at Ronnie. My gut clenched. He looked uncomfortable, rocking back and forth on his heels. His hands were firmly planted at his sides like an obedient boarding school student waiting his turn to speak.
I did not want to say it, but this was not my idea of a family reunion.
The excitement of bringing my new boyfriend home to my parents to show him off as if he were a brand-new car curdled on the newly laid carpet like a hot mess of heaping horseshit—a stinking disappointment.
I cleared my throat and took my hands, damp with sweat and shaking, out of my pockets. My inner child fumed, my voice seized momentarily, but when I found it again, reaching down into the depths of my clumsy childhood peculiarities, I said, “We’ve traveled three and a half hours to be here for a Valentine’s Day weekend of celebration, only to be insulted and shunned.”
The soft, steady scribbles of my mother’s insidious pencil tip stopped mid-stance between boxes. She looked up, her dreamy gaze a premonition of bad things to come. She set her pencil between the pages of her paperback puzzle book, reached with a dainty hand for her teacup, and sipped, slurping her morning oolong, the sound irrationally annoying to me.
She adjusted herself on the couch, wincing and groaning a few painful pleas about her arthritic aging body, and took a long, deep breath.
She crossed her sleeved arms and smiled at us. “Fix yourself a plate of sausage and pancakes, dear. It’s your favorite, Bradley.” A coaxing, loving mother at work.
A typical response, I thought, to help bury the bruised, anguished feelings she had been feeling about this trip, my sexuality, and my new male companion since we agreed to meet for a first family reunion in the past few years.
My father straightened the creased edges of the newspaper and resumed reading, hiding behind the sports section and adding fuel to the fire with a shady, disapproving grunt in acknowledgement of my presence.
“It’s been two years since I’ve been home,” I said. “The last time was for Dad’s open-heart surgery.”
“Don’t use my setback as an excuse, son,” he said, crumpling the newspaper onto his lap and scrunching his gaunt face into a rutted mask of disgust.
“Harold,” my mother whispered to him, leaning over the empty space between the armchair and couch to touch my father’s arm. A peacemaking encouragement, I thought, heading South. “Remember what the doctor said. Don’t get your blood pressure up.”
“I’m not making excuses for coming home,” I shot back. “Mom asked me to be here because it’s tradition. And it’s been a long time since we’ve been together under one roof.”
My father scoffed and balled the newspaper into a pile on the chair. Gripping both faux leather arms, he struggled to stand, riling my mother and disrupting her peaceful morning respite. “Goddamn it, Bradley. You don’t need your mother’s approval to come home.”
I said, “That’s not what I meant, Dad.”
He stood on his shaky legs and brushed past me, shoving my shoulders, his arms pinwheeling in a hailstorm of angry nonverbals as he headed toward the kitchen.
When he was out of earshot, I turned to Mom. “I didn’t mean to upset him.”
She held out a hand and closed her eyes as if asking for silence. To gather her thoughts, meditate, and resume her crossword puzzle.
I heaved a sigh and turned to Ronnie, standing soldier-still beside me. “I also stock shelves and help load groceries into people’s trunks,” he said, shattering the awkward silence of the moment.
Ronnie’s easygoing stance was one of the many attractive attributes I adored in him.
It was also the first time my mother cracked a smile that weekend.
Meet the Author
Thomas Grant Bruso knew at an early age he wanted to be a writer. He has been a voracious reader of genre fiction since he was a kid.
His literary inspirations are Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Ellen Hart, Jim Grimsley, Karin Fossum, Sam J. Miller, Joyce Carol Oates, and John Connolly.
Bruso loves animals, book-reading, writing fiction, prefers Sudoku to crossword puzzles.
In another life, he was a freelance writer and wrote for magazines and newspapers. In college, he was a winner for the Hermon H. Doh Sonnet Competition. Now, he writes book reviews for his hometown newspaper, The Press Republican.
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