A Vasquez & James Novel
Luki Vasquez receives the news he’s still cancer free after five years, and he wants to celebrate with his whole family. He and his husband, Sonny James, take a road trip south, intending to gather at the home of his nephew Josh, Josh’s wife Ruthie, and Jade—a little girl who was still in the womb when she and her mother helped Luki beat lung cancer.
Halfway to their destination, Luki learns Josh and Ruthie have met a tragic death. The horrible news lays Luki low, but he pulls himself together in time to be the family’s rock and see to the dreaded business of tying up loose ends. The most important business is Jade, and when Luki and Sonny head home, they take Jade with them.
Luki and Sonny must combat self-doubt and fear and help each other learn to parent an unexpected child—and they must also nourish the love that has kept them whole for the past ten years. A relative’s spurious claim to Jade threatens the new family, and even if they prevail in court, they could lose their little girl unless they can rescue Jade from evil hands and true peril.
THE SILVER in Luki’s curls flashed in the sunbeams that slanted through a bank of high windows, warming the bland waiting room outside Dr. Zvornak’s sanctum. Sonny often looked for that gray in his husband’s hair, loved it, though he knew Luki rarely noticed it, entwined as it was with the rich chestnut that still reigned on his head. To Sonny, the silver strands had the same effect as the metallic yarns he sometimes wove into matte wool, adding strength and giving his tapestry the glimmer of stars. Somehow—perversely—gray hair lent Luki a shine of youth despite his fifty-one years.
Luki emerged from the exam rooms and started across the brief expanse of durable gray carpet, and Sonny sent him a smile. The lift in Luki’s stride—which had been absent for a week—had returned. Luki, in his way, almost smiled back.
“So?” Sonny asked.
“It’s clear, baby. I’m okay. No cancer.”
At that point Luki had come even with the couch Sonny occupied, and he held out a hand, offering to help Sonny rise—something both knew was unnecessary. Sonny liked these little courtesies, though. It was one more way Luki made sure Sonny knew he was cherished. For the past week such gestures had been all but nonexistent, along with real communication. They’d talked about what’s for dinner, who was going where and would be back when, and they’d fucked but not made love—at least that’s the way Sonny felt about it. And all because Luki’s five-year-mark cancer screens had shown some type of enhancing abnormality on the MRI. The doctor wouldn’t pronounce him free and clear of cancer until he had the results of an ultrasound-guided biopsy. Luki had pretended to feel confident while they passed the days leading up to and following the procedure, but Sonny had clearly seen what if written all through every move he made, every glance of his pale-blue eyes, every slightly tentative touch and word.
But he’s okay, Sonny thought now, rising from the doctor’s couch, and his eyes burned. “Luki,” he said, and when Luki wrapped his arms around him, Sonny stepped into the comfort they offered. Against Luki’s neck he said, “What was it, then?”
Luki leaned back a bit. “What did you say? Sounded like ‘oomph’ something.” He gave Sonny a comical, quizzical look.
Sonny laughed, took Luki’s offered hand, and started walking. He didn’t answer. He knew Luki had heard and understood, and was teasing him only because he could.
“Scar tissue,” Luki said a few steps later. “And when the doctors looked back at the old images, it was pretty much the same there. For some reason it hadn’t been mentioned in the report two years ago, so until they looked at the old pictures they thought it was new.”
“Damn, honey. I’m really glad you had these doctors five years ago, but….” Sonny let the remark trail off. He really couldn’t find a way to express the mixture of relief and resentment making waves in his gut at the moment. Luki had started his cancer check in March, five years from the time he achieved remission from his cancer. Every year, he’d done the same, and after a week or so of tests and appointments he’d been given the all clear. But this time… this time... “Luki, I’m just kind of pissed!” He pulled at Luki’s arm to stop him, and when Luki patiently turned and met Sonny’s gaze, Sonny added, “Eight weeks! They’ve taken eight weeks to tell us what they could have known in the first ten days. All that time, I’ve been trying to pretend everything was okay, but I was scared out of my mind. Why the hell did they wait to look at the old images?”
“Dr. Z was wondering the same thing. But hey, baby. It’s okay. Now we’re extra sure I’m free and clear. Still in remission.” He stopped abruptly, his voice having broken slightly on that last word.
The tables seemed suddenly turned, and Sonny pulled Luki toward him, and even though they were right in the middle of a busy sidewalk, threw his arms around his husband in an effort to lend the kind of comfort Luki provided to him all the time. “Luki,” he said, holding Luki’s beloved head to his shoulder with all the might he could muster. “I know it’s been hard—harder for you than me. I can’t imagine what must have gone through your mind. I love you so much, honey. And you’re right! It’s going to be okay now. You’re five years cancer free! That’s a big deal. And honey? We’re going to celebrate, and we’re going to be fine.”
To Sonny’s surprise, Luki didn’t pull away, just stood there in the sunny, cold March wind, while people parted and walked around them like a river. He turned his head slightly to speak. Although Luki’s voice sounded a little thick, Sonny knew his eyes would be dry.
Luki said, as expected, “I’m sorry, baby.”
“Shut up, Luki.”
Luki chuckled, stood away from Sonny, and looked slightly upward to search his eyes. He smiled—lips curving and all—so Sonny had to assume he liked what he found there, and indeed Luki confirmed that.
“You, Sonny Bly James, are the most beautiful thing that ever happened to the world.”
As many hundreds of times that Luki had said those very words, Sonny never got tired of hearing them and never got the feeling Luki meant them any less than with his whole heart. But there was more to the refrain, and Sonny wanted to hear the rest. He smiled back, and then said, “And?”
“And I love you.”
Sonny laughed. “I love you too, husband.”
“Thanks! That’s a good thing. And so then you’ll take me to the Metro?”
When they had been in the midst of the battle against Luki’s cancer, five years earlier, every time they’d come to Seattle, Luki had insisted they follow the doctor visit with a visit to the gay dinner club they’d happened on soon after they met, the Metro. He’d had a superstitious compulsion, thinking that if he didn’t go to the Metro, he might not survive the cancer. Dutifully, Sonny had taken him each time—all except the one time the doctor sent him to the hospital instead.
Now, Sonny laughed out loud, throwing his head back, and said, “I’ve already got the GPS set to give us bad directions on how to get there.”
Luki chuckled, “Please tell me you don’t plan to follow those directions.”
“I’m tall, honey, not stupid.”
AFTER THEY’D had Full Sail Amber Ale and hamburgers at the Metro, and Luki had gotten upset at the staff for ignoring Sonny, and Sonny had reminded Luki he didn’t care—all of which is exactly what happened every time they went to the Metro—Sonny piloted the flying Mustang down I-5, over the Tacoma Narrows bridge, up and around the Kitsap Peninsula, the long way home.
As they made the trip through Bremerton, Luki said, “An Officer and a Gentleman.”
Sonny said, “Yeah, they filmed some of it here. And supposedly the story took place here.” He was surprised, though, because Luki didn’t really watch movies or television.
“My dad liked that movie. I think he secretly wanted to be a romantic.”
“Maybe he was a romantic,” Sonny suggested. “You know, with your mom. Kaholo said he never got over her dying, right?”
Luki looked as though the thought was completely new and possibly a little painful. Eventually he said, “Yeah, could be. Maybe I’ll ask Kaholo about it when we get everybody together to celebrate my five years cancer free.” He smiled—the second real smile in a single day—and held that expression until Sonny was able to turn his head and smile back.
Sonny switched hands on the wheel so he could reach for Luki’s broad, brown hand currently at rest in his lap, his white gold, black opal, and colorless sapphire wedding set sparkling in the afternoon sun. When Sonny touched it, Luki turned that hand up and caught Sonny’s in his sure but gentle grip. Something delicious traveled all through Sonny, an invisible shiver of pleasure and probably anticipation. He thought, magic hands, but what he said was, “Maybe that’s why he couldn’t accept you as you are, Luki.”
“You mean that’s why he ‘hated what I am.’”
“Well, that’s the way he said it, yeah. But what if he just was afraid you being gay would be another terrible loss, and he wouldn’t be able to deal, just like he couldn’t deal with losing your mother.”
Luki shook his head and raised one corner of his mouth in a wry expression that all by itself dismissed any excuses for his father’s cruelty. “Sonny, I can’t deny my dad gave me a lot of personal power in other ways, and it serves me well. And he said he loved me—he only said it once, but he did say it. And he saved me from being carved up like the bar-b-que pig. Growing up in his shadow and at his command, I couldn’t help but love and admire him. I still do. But I can’t think of anything to excuse his repugnance toward me because I’m gay. Maybe you’re right, but if you are, he was selfish and childish, and that’s not an excuse.”
Sonny didn’t say anything for a while, driving onto the long, flat Hood Canal bridge, which would take them from the Kitsap to the Olympic Peninsula and, still on Highway 104, up and around the coast, past Discovery Bay, and eventually home.
“This is a long bridge,” Luki said.
“Mm. About 7,000 feet.” Sonny changed his voice to his version of tour-guide-Sonny, and added, “The longest floating bridge in the world located in a saltwater tidal basin.”
Luki chuckled appropriately. “Well, while we’re on it, maybe you can tell me, do you think my dad could be excused for hating… my being gay?”
“Hell no, Luki!”
The answer was vehement enough to actually startle Luki. Once he recovered he said, “You know, Sonny, I don’t think I’ve ever talked about this, but…. The way my dad was, it’s a big reason I’ve never wanted to be a parent. I mean, I remember my mom, barely, and as far as I know she was great, and then of course there’s Kaholo. If I know anything about how to treat a kid, it’s probably because of him. But I’ve always worried I’d be a lousy parent. And if I was, I can assure you I’d blame Peli Vasquez, my good old dad, for at least part of it.”
“Honey, I don’t think there can be an excuse for a parent treating their child like that. I was only talking about understanding it a bit more—more for your peace than his benefit, certainly. And who knows what kind of parent either of us would have made. Chances are, we won’t know. But we’re damn good uncles.”
“True. But speaking of Nebraska—”
“Doesn’t matter. I can’t wait to call Kaholo when we get home. Tell him the news, see if he’ll come out to celebrate.”
Luki looked blank.
For the rest of the trip, Luki made calls and arrangements. Kaholo definitely would come. Jackie and Brian would try to carve out time from their work with British intelligence to make the cross-Atlantic trip—it was that important to them. Josh and Ruthie wanted to get together but had some issues with traveling. Ruthie was midpregnancy and for some reason had morning sickness and general nausea much later into the pregnancy than was usual.
“It’s a little inconvenient, Mr. Vasquez,” she drawled.
“Does everyone from West Virginia call their uncle-in-law ‘mister,’ Ruthie?”
She laughed, which was a sound Luki always enjoyed. It reminded him of a slow, deep creek running over rocks, in and out of eddies and pools. He inwardly smiled, but it did worry him when she said she was having problems. She apologized for her formality with a smile in her voice. “Sorry, I keep forgetting. I don’t know why. So, Luki—there is that better? Anyway, it’s a bit of a problem. I never know when I’m going to be sick, and also the doctor told me I shouldn’t travel until after the baby comes.”
“Okay, Ruthie. Maybe we can figure something out, but I’m sorry you’re having such a hard time. You didn’t with Jade, right?”
“Sheesh. That girl was easy. She acted like she knew exactly what she was doing—even during the birth. She’s still easy, Luki, and you know she talks about you, misses you. That’s another reason I wish we could come. But then, you know Josh just finally got the job transfer he wanted. He was permanent at the refinery, but he’s on the offshore crew now, maintenance out on THUMS Islands. I don’t think he could get off work—he’s still training and on probation.”
“Huh…. Well, congrats to him on the job. Hey, hold on a minute okay?” Luki held out the phone so Sonny could point to the button he needed to press to put the call on hold.
Once he’d done that Sonny said, “What’s up?”
Luki explained the reasons Josh and Ruthie couldn’t come north for a celebration, but before he could ask about an alternative, Sonny spoke up again.
“Well, how about we go down there? It’ll be a great chance for a road trip.”
“That is exactly what I hoped you would say, sweetie…. Well, not the part about the road trip. I was thinking we’d fly.”
“Nope. Road trip.”
With that settled, Luki took Ruthie off hold but found instead that five-year-old Jade was waiting. She explained, “Mommy’s throwing up, Uncle Luki. And I can’t come to your house right now.”
“Um. Okay. Why not?”
“’Cause at my preschool I just planted my orange tulip bulbs, and I have to be here to take care of them when they pop up out of the dirt.”
“Well, that’s very conscientious of you.”
“Yeah, little girl that I love, good is a great word for it.” It was a diversion. For some reason, “little girl that I love” always made Jade giggle madly. This time was no exception. When she slowed down, Luki asked, “Is your mommy done throwing up yet?”
“Nope. Still tossing her cookies.”
“Tossing her cookies?”
“Yeah, silly. It means throwing up. Don’t you know that?”
“Oh, well. Thanks for explaining. Why don’t you tell me good-bye, and after we hang up tell Mommy that Uncle Sonny and I are going to come there where you live, so you don’t have to leave your baby tulips. Okay?”
LUKI HAD been antsy all day. Not grouchy—not at all—though he thought Sonny might worry that he was. Really he just couldn’t keep his mind off Sonny’s body. To say Luki’s head was stuck in Sonny’s pants wouldn’t have been accurate, because it was all of Sonny that was driving him crazy. The way his hand rested on the steering wheel. The way he lifted his long, efficient legs to work the clutch, brake, and gas, the stretch of sweating brown neck when Sonny pulled his heavy, earth-brown hair off it as he drove.
And drove and drove and fucking drove.
Before the day was over, they had stopped three times. Once because Sonny’s back hurt, and they walked that time at this park along a dirty river called the Chehalis, in a town called the same name. They bought lattes with extra shots, Sonny’s also with strawberry syrup, which made Luki cringe.
While tearing sugar packets open he said, “God, Sonny! Strawberry coffee? Really?”
Sonny smiled and teased back. “For your birthday I’m going to get you a compact automatic sugar packet opener. You can do up to a dozen at a time. Ought to save you some time and wear on your fingers.”
Luki let the smile move from his eyes to his lips, slight but visible, and meant only for Sonny. Instead of arguing with Sonny about his monumental sugar use, as usual, he just said, “Yeah but I’d have to remember to put it on the charger before long trips.” They both laughed, but Luki could see the pain Sonny was trying to ignore; it hung like a cloud in Sonny’s eyes.
“Sonny,” Luki said, taking his husband’s hand and bringing it to his lips for a kiss. “Sweetie, I still think you should see the doctor about your back hurting like this.”
“I told you before, Luki, it’s just from that accident I had playing Rez Ball when I was a kid. Kind of a freak thing, really, ’cause it crushed the disk when the vertebra cracked.”
“Damn, baby, that had to really hurt. It almost makes me want to throw up, thinking how bad that must have been for you.”
“Yeah. Hurt like hell, that’s for sure. But the doctors fused that one level, and it all healed up, and I’ve been fine. It’s only lately that it started hurting. I probably just pulled some muscles or something. Getting old, you know.”
“Sonny, you’re not even forty yet.”
“Shut the fuck up! You should go to the doctor.”
“I saw the doctor! He prescribed the muscle relaxers.”
“I don’t mean go to Donnell, and you know it. Because the last time you saw him he referred you to a neurologist. I’m gonna knock you out and take you there, when we get home. Meanwhile, take something for the pain.”
Sonny took some ibuprofen, they walked a few minutes longer, and then—impossibly—Sonny got in the passenger seat and reclined it just the right amount, lying back into it carefully. So Luki drove.
Sonny dozed off somewhere along the way, and Luki thought about how unfair it was that Sonny dealt with pain. Here Luki was, twelve years older—fifty-one, as hard as that was to believe—and he had almost no pain save the odd twinge in his thigh from getting shot, or in his chest from where the surgeon had nicked a nerve during his lung surgery. He suspected Sonny was putting up with worse pain than he let on. It was kind of a stereotype, but Sonny really could be stoic at times. Even after he had been poisoned with cyanide, he’d never let on how horribly the neuropathy affected him. It wasn’t until months after the residuals had finally passed that he’d admitted how hard he’d had to fight not to let it cripple him.
Cruising south on I-5 now, Luki resolved anew to coax Sonny to visit the specialist Donnell had recommended, and in the meantime he was grateful there were a few things Sonny would let him do to help.
I’ll spoil him tonight with a massage.
Meanwhile he saw the signs for the I-205 junction, which would bypass downtown Portland instead of going right through it on I-5. He contemplated waking Sonny up to ask him which way to go. Sonny was so smart about all things driving, Luki was sure he’d have an opinion, but he chose instead to make a unilateral decision. He wasn’t helpless. He’d been driving a good twenty-five years before he even met Sonny. Feeling proud and a little smug for making his own driving decision—though he knew that was ridiculous—he veered onto the 205 just north of Salmon Creek.
Around ten miles north of the interchange that would hook Luki and the Mustang back onto I-5—a massive ten lane beast here—Sonny woke up, raised the back of his seat, and palmed his eyes. After he cleared his throat, he asked, “Where are we, husband?”
“I-205, about ten miles north of Tualatin.”
“Hey, don’t blame me. I’m not an Oregonian.”
“Me neither. I’m glad Washington doesn’t have any weird place names.” They both smiled, the weird place names of Washington having been a running private joke almost from the day they met. Sonny reached down to the six-pack cooler at his feet and took out two cold Cokes. “You want one, right.”
“Oh, yes, baby. A Coke sounds miraculous. I think I’m in love with you.” Silence ensued, broken by the sound of Sonny popping the top off carbonated drinks. Then Luki added, “Maybe. I mean, if you had a hamburger I’d be sure, but… you don’t, do you?”
Sonny laughed. “No, I don’t. But if you stop at that rest stop coming up, I’ll piss, and then I’ll trade you places, and I’ll get you to this really good hamburger stop I happen to know of in a matter of maybe half an hour. North of Albany.”
“Your back is better?”
“Oh yeah! Lots.”
From the way Sonny said it, Luki knew he wasn’t covering up. He wished he understood why sometimes it would hurt and sometimes it wouldn’t, but mostly he was just glad it had stopped. Instead of saying that, though, he said, “I took the 205.”
A slow smile spread across Sonny’s beautiful face. “Yeah?”
“I’m just a damn good driver, don’t you think?”
Sonny laughed, and Luki couldn’t stop his smile; that sweet sound was the point of his whole silly exercise.
“Oh, husband,” Sonny said. “Yes, damn good. I would have done the same thing.”
With Sonny smiling again, and not hurting, Luki’s celebratory mood crept back in, and after switching places they drove on in good-natured silence and occasional banter or conversation about logistics. Sonny did indeed know a fantastic place for hamburgers, a little out-of-the-way place that wouldn’t likely be accidentally uncovered.
“How did you know this place was here, Sonny?”
“From when I used to do the powwow highway. There’s a college nearby where they have a pretty big powwow every year. I came here with some of the local people a couple times. You like?”
“Hell, yeah! This has to be one of the best hamburgers I’ve ever eaten.” Luki looked around the room, observing, as per his trade, without being obvious. He thought it was odd that ten years after he and Sonny were able to legally marry, now when nearly every state had legal same-sex marriage and so did most European countries, they would still get condemning looks from some people. He sighed and shook his head slightly, and then caught his husband’s eye. Sonny’s thoughts were apparently right there with his because he smiled a wry smile, tilted his head, and whispered, “They don’t matter, husband. I love you.”
Luki put his hand over Sonny’s and said loud enough for most of the people in the tiny dining room to hear, “I don’t have cancer, Sonny!”
Sonny, who was counting out money for the bill, said in a similar voice, “So I heard! Let’s get a room and celebrate.”
They chuckled as they walked out into the sunny afternoon, warm for March in Oregon. Sonny drove the rest of the way, while Luki selected tunes—Robbie Robertson, Smokey Robinson, Bonnie Raitt, and his number-one favorite, Etta James. He discussed with Sonny for a while whether Etta could be a distant relative of Sonny’s family, but Sonny insisted that James was a very common surname and relationship was unlikely. Ultimately, Sonny won the point. Luki slept for maybe half an hour and dreamed about touching Sonny’s thigh and causing sparks. He woke up to heat—his own fire, centering low in his belly, and to thirst, and to the sight of the sinking sun slinging red shadows across the lonesome four lane, only one semi sharing the southbound highway.
Luki sipped Coke and touched Sonny’s thigh just to test for ignition. He thought he detected a low flame, maybe like a pilot light. Returning his mind to the mundane, he asked, “Where are we, baby?”
“Almost there—I mean to the place we’re stopping for the night.”
“Jude took care of us, remember? She decided the sweetest spot would be the Mount Shasta Inn.”
“Oh yeah, I do recall. Flowery things everywhere, old furniture, and the piano.”
“Mm-hm. Really sweet, colorful, old-fashioned. Ping-Pong table.”
Luki inwardly smiled—he could tell Sonny was looking forward to the place. And that’s what would make it nice for Luki. “You play ping-pong?”
“Not to speak of.”
“No swimming pool, though!”
Luki chewed his lip, “Well, if you want to swim, maybe there’s a river or a deep creek.”
“Probably leeches,” Sonny said, and they both laughed. But then his voice got a little huskier. “But they might have a nice bathtub.”
“Sweetie,” Luki said, and stroked all the way up Sonny’s thigh, causing Sonny to suck in a breath. “I think we can make do with a decent bed. What do you think?”
Pure and simple, it is profound, it’s like being wrapped in a warm comfort blanket, knowing all is right with the world.
Read the full review at
If you like to laugh AND cry at the same time, here you go! Highly recommended series!!!
Because of Jade is filled with angst, heartbreak, and loving commitment.
Well, Lou Sylvre has done it again; yes she has brought tears to my eyes with another incredible story...
Wow, what a roller coaster!
Wow, what a poignant piece of work. I was so hooked from the very first moment I started this book. WOW!!
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