Sequel to Buried Bones Bones: Book Three
Ery Phillips’s muse is MIA. He’s pretty sure his job as a graphic designer is to blame, because let’s face it, what kind of muse wants to draw grocery store logos and catheterized penises?
When Ery’s friends Dylan and Chris head off on a European vacation, Ery jumps at the chance to stay on their farm, hoping a stint in the country will encourage his muse to reappear. To be sure, the farm has attracted a few oddities—Dylan is a werewolf and the place was recently haunted—but Ery isn’t canceling his plans just because his friends warn him that there’s something strange going on in their pond. What he doesn’t expect is Karl, a beautiful naked man who appears at the water’s edge.
With Karl as his inspiration, Ery creates amazing paintings and begins to achieve the success he had previously only dreamed of. But Karl comes with certain challenges, causing Ery to question his own goals. Creating the life of his dreams with an unusual beloved may be more challenge than Ery can handle.
“I DIDN’T take you for the skulking type, Ery.” Chris grinned and held out a glass of white wine.
Ery realized he was clutching an empty, and willingly exchanged it for the new one. “I’m not skulking.”
“Someone’s been cuddling up with a thesaurus.” Ery took a sip of the wine. It was good stuff. No doubt more expensive than his usual Trader Joe’s find. “Anyway, I’m resting. Relaxing.”
“Didn’t know you did relaxing, dude.”
Chris tugged at his dress-shirt collar and tie as if they were strangling him. The only other time Ery had seen his friend dressed up was at Chris and Dylan’s civil commitment ceremony, when Dylan had somehow cajoled the guy into a tux. That afternoon Chris had probably been too emotional to care what he was wearing, but this evening he clearly would have preferred his usual ancient T-shirt and faded jeans.
Ery had another swallow of wine. Chris might look uncomfortable and out of place, but Ery felt like beetles were crawling under his skin and through his stomach. He was not relaxed. “Where’s Dylan?” he asked.
Chris waved vaguely across the crowded room. “Chin-wagging with his boss and some big-shot client. I got tired of hearing about gambrels and porticos and whatever the fuck else they were goin’ on about.” Despite Chris’s complaint, Ery saw his pride for Dylan, who’d recently made partner at the architectural firm.
“Dylan’s moving in pretty fancy circles nowadays, isn’t he?”
“Yeah. But when he gets home, I make sure he ain’t gettin’ too full of himself.”
Despite Ery’s general unease over the evening, he couldn’t help but laugh at Chris’s leer. “You remind him of his real priorities, huh?”
Chris had somehow managed to find a bottle of beer instead of wine, and he leaned against the wall next to Ery, sipping slowly. They watched as a man in an expensive suit and a woman wearing a necklace undoubtedly worth far more than Ery’s annual salary peered at a large bronze statue.
“I love it!” the woman cooed. “It’s a perfect conceptualization of global climate change. Brilliant!”
Her companion nodded gravely. “Exactly. The way the texture over here depicts the melting of the glaciers and the impact on coastal cities…. And look over here, where the artist—”
“Global warming is bullshit.” The interruption came from a thin woman of indeterminate age and considerable surgical enhancement. “It’s just another liberal scheme to control corporate freedom.”
The necklace lady frowned. “We’ve been through this, Jenn. The vast majority of scientists agree—”
“The vast majority of scientists used to agree that people were controlled by humors and that sperm had teeny tiny human beings inside them. That doesn’t make it true.” Jenn tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. “Besides, they’re all getting paid to produce those reports. The media eats it up.”
The man shook his head. “That’s not true. And you can’t deny climate change is happening already. What about the drought we’re having?”
“Some years we have drought and some years we flood.” Jenn shrugged. “It all evens out. Anyway, I enjoy this weather. Warm and not so goddamn dreary all the time.”
“That’s just because you’re from California,” the necklace lady shot back. She enunciated the location as if it was something terrible, and the man nodded his agreement.
Jenn snorted. “And you’re just mad because ski conditions are going to be crappy this winter.”
Still squabbling, the three of them wandered out of earshot.
“Jesus,” Chris said after another sip of beer. “No wonder you ain’t mingling. Times like this, I kinda wish Dyl could go all furry right here. I’d love to see this crowd panic.”
For a moment Ery entertained himself with a mental image of a rampaging werewolf growling at Jenn and pissing on the climate-change statue. But of course Dylan wouldn’t. He only turned into a wolf when he was safely on his farm or the adjacent forest land, and he wouldn’t let anyone near him but Chris. Which was sensible enough but disappointing under the current circumstances. What was the point of being pals with a supernatural creature if he couldn’t terrify a few idiots?
While Ery remained up against the wall, Chris walked over to give the statue a closer look. He spent a minute or two tilting his head this way and that before returning to Ery’s side. “I think it looks like a sperm whale giving birth to a piano.”
Ery tried not to giggle but lost the battle. God, he liked Chris, who wasn’t like any of the people Ery hung out with. And he certainly wasn’t the type he’d have pictured getting together with Dylan, but Ery was really glad those two had hooked up.
His good humor swiftly faded. “That statue sold for forty grand.”
Chris made a sour face. “Morons.”
“At least some of it will go to a good cause.” That was true. All the artists were donating a chunk of their sales toward a new shelter for homeless teens.
“If I had $40K burning a hole in my pocket, I’d just hand it over to the kids and not waste it on an ugly piece of shit.” Chris blushed slightly and shot Ery a quick look. “I don’t mean your stuff, man. Your paintings ain’t ugly.”
“They’re not selling either.”
“That one did.” Chris waved his bottle in the direction of a large canvas Ery had painted in sky blue with cloudy little streaks. There was a heavy jagged line across the center, like a seismograph recording or an EEG. Small spots of red and subtle green shading completed the effect.
Ery sighed. “Stender bought it.” The senior partner in Dylan’s firm. Ery should have been pleased that his work would soon be hanging in one of the city’s top architectural offices, where a lot of people would see it. But he was fairly certain Dylan had talked Stender into the purchase out of pity or solidarity or friendship. Ery wanted people to buy his work because it spoke to them, because they loved it.
Chris must have noticed Ery’s glum look, because he gently pried the empty wineglass from his hand. “I’m gonna see if I can wrestle Dylan outta here. Then I’m gonna let you take us to a club where you can find yourself a guy and dance ’til you puke.”
Ery tried to perk up over that. He was constantly trying to drag Dylan and Chris someplace fun—if for no other reason than to show the world he was friends with the hottest-looking couple in the Portland metro area. But tonight he was more in the mood for someplace quiet and sober, where he could emo to his heart’s content. He patted Chris’s shoulder. “Sure. I’ll wait here.” He plastered himself against the wall again, as if he were a piece of art on exhibit.
He wasn’t usually such a wallflower. At most art shows, he buzzed around, checking out the other pieces, talking to friends, flirting with the cute guys. Usually he had fun. Not tonight.
The thing was, his usual shows were at a bar or restaurant, or maybe in the kind of community space that was jammed between a yoga studio and a bicycle repair shop. Everybody drank beer and nobody wore a tie—unless she wore it ironically. There were generally a lot of tats and piercings, but no plastic surgery and no necklaces worth tens of thousands of dollars. And if he sold a few pieces, great—a few extra bucks in his pocket. But he didn’t sweat it one way or the other. It didn’t matter.
Tonight mattered. There were art critics and people with seriously deep pockets. The show was out of Ery’s league. He’d only gotten the invite via Dylan, whose firm was a major sponsor. But tonight was a chance to make a name for himself, to fulfill his dream of quitting the evil day job and becoming an artist instead of a hack.
And it just wasn’t happening.
Nobody was throwing rotten vegetables at his canvases, which should have been a consolation. But nobody was paying his work much attention either. They were too busy emptying their pockets for climate-change sperm whales.
He was staring morosely at his feet when a hand landed on his shoulder. He looked up to find Dylan smiling at him. Jeez, Dyl looked good. He had his arm around Chris’s shoulders.
“The two of you look like a magazine cover,” Ery said.
Chris snorted. “What magazine is that? Overdressed Homos Quarterly?”
Dylan rolled his eyes. “Let’s get out of here before Jack Everson finds me and tries to discuss his façade in more detail.”
“His façade, huh?” Chris waggled his eyebrows. “Should I be jealous?”
“Do you have to make everything into a dirty joke?”
“Yes. I do.”
They were adorable together. Ery heaved his tenth sigh of the night. “Let’s go, guys.”
They had to stop first and say good-bye to the couple chairing the event. But the hosts were clearly a lot more interested in Dylan than Ery, so the interchange was short. A few minutes later, the three men walked out into the unseasonably warm October night.
“We’re parked in that garage,” Dylan said, pointing. “You?”
“I’ll drive and we’ll take you home after. You can come downtown in the morning to get your car, right?”
“I guess.” Another deep sigh. “Look, can we just… I don’t know. Go have coffee or something?”
Dylan and Chris exchanged a quick look. “Sure,” Chris said. “But it means you’re gonna miss seein’ Dyl get his groove on.”
“Has his dancing been enhanced too?” When Ery first met Dylan back in college, Dylan had been cute in a geeky, gawky sort of way. But for some reason, becoming a werewolf had buffed up his body and beefed up his… magnetism, so now he turned heads wherever he went. He only had eyes for Chris, though.
Chris laughed. “No, he’s still a spaz when he dances.”
“Hey!” Dylan protested, but not very vigorously.
Ery shook his head. “I’ll have to save it for another night. I’m kinda wiped, I guess.”
With Chris muttering something about hell freezing over if Ery was out of energy, and with Dylan looking worried, they walked down the sidewalk until they came to a Starbucks. Not exciting, but it would do. Ery staked out a good seat in the back corner while Dylan and Chris ordered drinks. The place was pretty crowded and noisy enough that Ery couldn’t hear the sound system, which was just as well. He wasn’t in the mood for retro pop or bossa nova or whatever corporate wanted the baristas to push this week. If he were home, he’d probably listen to Stravinsky or Bartók. Something depressing and eastern European. The kind of music that should be accompanied by vodka and unfiltered cigarettes.
“Here you go,” Dylan said, setting a paper cup in front of Ery. “Three sugars, right?”
Ery smiled. “Yeah.”
Chris and Dylan sat across from him, which made Ery feel a little like he was at a job interview. Dylan had something venti and blended, and Chris had just a small paper cup. Dylan plopped down a couple of paper bags. “Chocolate chip cookies and some kind of berry loaf. Help yourself.”
“Thanks.” But Ery wasn’t hungry and didn’t need more calories. The goodies wouldn’t go to waste, though. Dylan ate all the time—the result of his weird metabolism, he said. Ery wished he could eat nonstop without gaining weight.
“I’m sorry your grandmother couldn’t make it tonight,” Dylan said as he broke off a chunk of cookie.
“Yeah. She wanted to. She would have enjoyed it too. But… she’s getting old, you know? She said it would be too much for her.” Ery didn’t want to think about it. Although his parents were cool, he’d always had a special relationship with his grandma. She was an amazing lady. Even now that he’d passed thirty, he still felt as though she could answer all the questions in the universe.
He decided to change the subject. “What have you guys been up to, anyway?”
“Usual,” Chris answered. Then he frowned, loosened his tie, and pulled it off. He shoved it at Dylan. “That’s better. We’re almost finished with the bathroom, and then I’m gonna put in some new shelving units in the living room. Built-ins. We’re gonna get that fireplace workin’ too.” Dylan and Chris’s old farmhouse was in a constant state of restoration and repair, which neither of them seemed to mind.
Dylan chuckled. “And Chris bought this… this thing, which he claims he can get running.”
“It ain’t a thing. She’s a ’70 Olds 442, and she’s gonna be a thing of beauty when I’m done with her.”
“It’s like Christine,” Dylan stage-whispered. “Only instead of killing people, the car eats all his time and money.”
Ery sat back in his chair and listened to his friends bicker. No matter how snarky their words, they touched each other all the time: shoulder bumping shoulder, a hand giving another a quick squeeze, a fond ruffling of hair. And whatever Chris did under the table, hidden from Ery’s view, sure made Dylan jump and then blush.
Dylan finished the first cookie and started on the second. “We haven’t seen you at the studio for a while.”
Chris and Dylan had turned the farm’s small barn into a studio for Ery. They’d made it clear Ery was welcome to use it whenever he wanted, unless there was a full moon. At first he’d gone there almost every weekend and even after work now and then, and he’d happily slathered paint over his canvases. He liked the building, which still smelled slightly of hay. During the day there were barn swallows, and in the evenings, bats swooped out from the rafters.
But his visits to the farm had tapered off over the past months. He hadn’t been there at all in several weeks.
“Have you been busy at work?” Dylan prompted.
“I guess. I’ve been working on a new account, redesigning logos and signage for a grocery chain. Which is every bit as exciting as it sounds. And I’m illustrating a manual for nursing students.”
While Dylan slurped and chewed and avoided eye contact, Chris unfastened the top few buttons of his shirt and folded a napkin into origami shapes. Ery watched a group of college kids at a nearby table. They all had textbooks and laptops open in front of them but seemed to be spending most of their time on their phones. His attention strayed to the counter, where one of the baristas looked vaguely familiar. A brief hookup from long ago, maybe. Or maybe not. The guy didn’t seem to notice Ery at all.
For no reason Ery could discern, Dylan gave a sudden violent jerk. He glared at Chris, who raised his eyebrows expectantly.
“We’re, uh, going on a trip in a couple weeks,” Dylan said.
“Camping again?” The previous year Dylan had surprised Chris with a shiny new Airstream trailer, and they liked to take it to the coast or up into the mountains now and then.
“Nope. Chris has this passport without a single stamp, so we’re going to do something about that. Europe.”
“Wow! That sounds great! Have you decided where in particular?”
Chris answered. “Barcelona. That’s in Spain.” For some reason he snickered and Dylan scowled. “Also Paris. We’re doing a week in each.”
Ery’s grandmother had sent him to Paris for his twenty-fifth birthday. The guy he’d been dating went too, and they had a blast. They spent hours at the Louvre, but it was the Musée d’Orsay that truly captured Ery’s heart. He’d stared at the impressionist paintings with awe, imagining that someday his work might hang in a place like that. Hah. Fat chance.
“Remind me to give you the names of a couple clubs in Le Marais,” he said. “You can’t fly all the way over there and miss out on the real Gay Paree.”
“I’m gonna come off as an even worse hick there,” Chris said morosely.
But Ery shook his head. “Are you kidding? Those French boys will eat you up. They’ll eat both of you up.”
Now his friends looked skeptical. Dylan remained perpetually unconvinced that he had evolved into sex on legs, and Chris seemed to think the entire world viewed him as a hopeless redneck instead of a bright, talented, and caring man. Their low self-esteem should have annoyed Ery, but he found it slightly endearing. “You guys’ll have a lot of fun,” he said.
They chatted for a while about Paris and Barcelona. Dylan pretended to despair of sitting next to his restless partner for an eleven-hour plane trip, and Chris went on about how Dylan was going to want to try every snooty, weird food in Europe. The college kids went away, and soon a middle-aged lady with a pink streak in her hair took their table. She had a laptop too, but instead of staring at her phone, she clacked madly away at her keyboard. Ery wondered what she was writing.
Chris and Dylan started shooting significant looks at each other again. They were probably thinking it was time to hit the road for the hour’s drive home. If Ery had been a better friend, he would have given them a graceful out. But he wasn’t in the mood to go back to his depressing apartment—it was always too cold or too hot, and the neighbors had crappy taste in music. So they all simply sat there for a while.
Chris finally exploded. “Oh, for fuck’s sake! Gettin’ Lon Chaney here to talk about anything important is goddamn impossible.” He bonked Dylan hard enough on the shoulder to make him wince. “We need to talk about something besides croissants and berets, Ery.”
Dylan chewed his lip and looked as if he were about to undergo a painful dental procedure. “What’s wrong, Ery?” he said at last.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean… you seem kind of off lately.”
Now it was Ery’s turn to look away. “The show tonight was kind of a bust. It bruised my ego a little.”
“I don’t mean just tonight. You haven’t been using the studio. You haven’t been….” Dylan waved his hands helplessly.
Chris stepped in to translate. “You haven’t been flitting.”
Ery blinked at him. “Flitting?”
“Yeah. Normally you’re zooming all over the place, talkin’ a mile a minute, smiling at everyone. You’re Mr. Congeniality. But now… well, look at yourself. You’re not even dressed like normal.”
Glancing down at his clothing, Ery shrugged. “I’m wearing a suit. I think that’s pretty normal.”
“That’s pretty normal for someone else. You usually look like you stole your clothing from fuckin’ Oz. Technicolor.”
Chris had a point. Ery’s suit was a sober charcoal and his shirt was powder blue. The only real color came from his tie, a bright red with a hand-painted surfer.
Dylan and Chris looked worried. This time, at least, Ery managed not to sigh. “My job ate my soul.” He couldn’t quite resist a dramatic swoon, toppling slowly forward until his forehead was on the table. It smelled like cookies and cleaning fluid.
“Is it that bad?” Dylan asked gently.
Ery lifted his head from the table. “You know what I did today? I drew a picture of a guy with a catheter in his dick. And I tried to decide between fifteen nearly identical shades of green for the leaf in the new grocery store logo. Used to be I could spend the day on stuff like that, and when I was on my own time, doing real art, I could work it right out of my system.” He’d been happy then, paint splattering everywhere like a rainbow drizzle. It was a little like the feeling a kid got on the first day of summer vacation. But lately that feeling had faded.
“Can you find a different job?” Chris asked.
“No. I mean, yeah, maybe. But I don’t think it would help. It’s too late. I murdered my muse.”
At the show, a silver-haired man with a companion who was either a grandson or a much younger lover had paused in front of one of Ery’s paintings. Ery hovered nearby, ears cocked. “I like the palette,” the older man said. “And the way the balance is just slightly off. But overall… eh. It lacks originality. The artist just isn’t saying anything to me.”
The younger man nodded. “It’s too derivative. It doesn’t say anything new.”
The words had hurt—mostly because they were true. Ery hadn’t felt the old joy when he’d painted that piece. He’d thought about the painting a lot, planned it carefully, intentionally included a few sly references to de Kooning and Gorky. But in the end, the work had felt almost as clinical as sketching a dick with a tube in it.
“It sounds like your creative wellspring’s gone dry,” Dylan said, then winced. “Sorry. I’ve been listening to Stender too long.”
“No, no, you’re right. Ideas used to flow out of me so fast I could hardly keep up. And now? Nada.”
“Sucks, man,” Chris said while Dylan shook his head sympathetically. And Ery felt a tiny bit better for sharing. He hadn’t even told his grandma how he’d been feeling lately, although he’d caught a few of her worried looks. He wasn’t usually a complainer, and he didn’t want to whine. But lately he’d been feeling like something important had broken inside, like a piece of himself had gone missing.
“Hey,” said Dylan. “Maybe a change of scenery would help. Come to Europe with us.”
Ery snorted. “Third wheel much?”
Chris smiled. “Nah. I bet you’re fun on a trip. You could take us to those clubs you were talkin’ about.”
Honestly, the idea was tempting. But although Ery had some vacation time saved up, he didn’t have much money. He couldn’t afford to jet-set. “Thanks, guys. You’re sweet. But I’m gonna stick around here.” A new idea struck him. “But maybe I’ll take some time off work. You don’t mind if I hang out at the studio, do you?”
“We built it for you,” said Dylan. “Hang out all you want. In fact… while we’re out of town, would you mind keeping an eye on the place for us? Kay offered, but that means she’d be bringing the baby with her, and that kid is a terror. She’s walking now.” He shuddered.
Chris nodded eagerly. “Yeah, good idea. Besides, the sister-in-law probably wouldn’t want the rug rat around if we got invaded by ghosts or werewolf packs again.” He was grinning, but he wasn’t exaggerating. The previous year, the farmhouse had been haunted, and a bunch of extremely unfriendly werewolves had tried to kill Dylan and Chris.
“Ghosts I can handle. I don’t know what to do about werewolves, though.”
“I’ve faced ’em twice,” said Chris. “If they ain’t Dylan, I recommend screaming like a little girl and running like hell. That’s what I did.”
Dylan squeezed Chris’s shoulders. “You did not. You saved me.”
“First I screamed and ran. Didn’t save you ’til Uncle Frank powered me up.”
“Nuh-uh. Your dad told me. You were already heading toward me and that pack when Frank chipped in. If the ghost hadn’t helped, you’d have run right in there and gotten yourself torn to pieces. Dope,” he added fondly.
They continued to squabble for a moment, but they were all googly-eyed over each other while they did it. Ery had to admit it—he was 99 percent thrilled that they’d found each other and made such a good life together and 1 percent jealous as hell. Not because he regretted that, after a little experimental fooling around back in college, he and Dylan decided they made better friends than lovers. That had been the right decision by far. It was only… jeez, he wanted what they had.
Maybe Dylan was right. Maybe a vacation and a little change of scenery would help. Couldn’t hurt. “Sure, I’ll keep an eye on the place. I’ll just camp out there while you’re gone, if that’s okay.”
“Anytime,” Chris and Dylan said almost in unison. All three of them laughed.
“You guys are adorable. You’re gonna be one of those old married couples that finishes each other’s sentences.” Ery smiled at them. “Thanks. This’ll be good. Heck, maybe some supernatural creatures should show up. That might knock me out of my rut.”
“Be careful what you wish for,” Chris warned. “Weird shit happens around Dylan.”
Dylan protested. “Hey! The ghost was yours.”
“Right, sure. You’re only responsible for the murderous lycanthropes.”
“Fancy word there, country boy.”
“I know a lotta fancy words, city boy. Like retribution and penance.” Chris waggled his eyebrows meaningfully.
Ery sat back in his chair to watch his friends, the merest hint of a squiggle in his heart—a squiggle that meant maybe things were going to get better. He smiled and ate a big piece of Dylan’s remaining cookie.
'Bone Dry' is the sequel to 'Buried Bones', a book that I absolutely loved, and even though my primary guys, Dylan and Chris, are relegated to a more secondary status, I wanted to delve into Ery and find out what new paranormal mischief the author would throw at me. Little did I know it was going to be wonderful, and sad, and melancholy, and exciting, and joyous, and a little like a fairy tale.
Ery's muse is gone. She's vamoosed, and he doesn't know what to do to get her back. His life is pretty lackluster these days, and it seems to have spilled over into his art. It's been weeks since he's been out to the studio that Chris and Dylan built for him. Ery's job as a graphic designer is just blah. Blah. Blah. Blah. Seriously. His creativity isn't being challenged working on a supermarkets chain logo, or drawing anatomically correct figures using medical equipment, for a nursing manual. He's thirty-one years old, he's never been in love, and, deep down inside, he's still waiting for Prince Charming, just like his grandma continues to promise him.
When Chris and Dylan head for Europe on vacation, Ery goes out to the country to try to recapture his muse. Instead, what he finds is Karl. Perhaps I should say, in addition to finding his muse, he finds Karl. If you're dying to know what type of supernatural creature Karl is, you need to read the book, because I'm not spoiling the surprise. Let's just say, he wasn't anything I thought he'd be. Ery and Karl's time together is beautiful, in the way a sunset is, or a clear mountain lake. But Ery's life is in the city, and when Chris and Dylan come home, Ery introduces them to Karl, and then Ery goes back to his dreary apartment, and his evil day job.
As much as I've loved all the books written in this world, I think this one was my favorite. There's something magical about it that just transported me away. I can say, with absolute certainty, that if it wasn't for Dylan and Chris, Ery would've made the worst mistake of his life. The ending was fantastic, and brought a hiccup to my heart, and made me tear up, just a little. A beautiful story with a timeless message of love. Thank you, Kim.
NOTE: This book was provided by Dreamspinner Press for the purpose of a review on Rainbow Book Reviews.
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