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Alex always thought love was enough to keep him and Gio together. Why did they need wedding rings or legal certificates? But now, with Gio lost in a coma after a fire has destroyed their home, his partner's mother banishes Alex from his side.

Locked in a gray limbo inside his head, memories are all Gio has left, and the urge to let go is getting stronger.

Nothing can keep Alex from Gio's side, even if he has to break the rules. In their stolen moments alone together, Alex fights to reach Gio, one memory at a time.

What if Alex's voice is the only thing that can bring Gio back?

Release dateJun 10, 2021
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J. Scott Coatsworth

Scott lives with his husband Mark in a yellow bungalow in Sacramento. He was indoctrinated into fantasy and sci fi by his mother at the tender age of nine. He devoured her library, but as he grew up, he wondered where all the people like him were.He decided that if there weren’t queer characters in his favorite genres, he would remake them to his own ends.A Rainbow Award winning author, he runs Queer Sci Fi, QueeRomance Ink, and Other Worlds Ink with Mark, sites that celebrate fiction reflecting queer reality, and is a full member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA).

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    Flames - J. Scott Coatsworth


    Monday, September 27

    There was only this moment. This place. Alex’s hand holding Gio’s, gently because of the burns there. The sound of the heart rate machine in regular soft beeps. The little green box in Alex’s other hand and all it symbolized between them.

    All their life together had shrunk down to this moment, this place, this plea. "Please wake up, Gio. Amore mio, svegliati."


    Sunday, September 12. Two weeks earlier

    Alex Gutierrez was late getting home, and he was in a foul mood from the long, difficult day at work. One of the properties he’d made a bid on had fallen through, and another client had all but called him a bald-faced liar.

    He was looking forward to getting home, taking a long hot shower, then crawling into bed.

    Alex was startled to find a whole meal, complete with wine and candles, laid out on their dining room table. Gio must have spent the whole day cooking.

    Alex was late. He’d been delayed with his angry client, and to make matters worse, his phone had up and died halfway through the afternoon and he’d been without his car charger.

    He was already annoyed when he walked in the door.

    "Welcome home, amore," Gio called from the kitchen.

    I had a hell of a day…. He caught a whiff of whatever Gio was cooking.

    Come sit down. I’ve got everything ready.

    The dining room looked like a Martha Stewart production of a telenovela Thanksgiving. I’m sorry. I’m not really hungry. Things were the shits at work today.

    Sorry to hear that. Have a seat. Gio grabbed his elbow and urged him toward his chair. Food makes everything better.

    Alex growled. Look, I’m sorry, but I’m not hungry. I just want to wash up—

    That’s just the job talking. Gio took his arm again.

    Knock it off! I’m not in the mood tonight.

    Gio looked hurt, but Alex plowed on, too incensed to stop.

    This isn’t some kind of June and Ward Cleaver relationship.

    I just—

    You have to let go of your stupid, unrealistic expectations of me and this relationship.

    Gio frowned. That’s bullshit, and you know it. Just because you had a bad day at work, there’s no reason to take it out on me.

    He was right. But Alex couldn’t admit it. Just leave me the fuck alone. He grabbed his phone charger and storming out. He’d find somewhere else to sleep tonight.

    Alex woke, still groggy from the immense amount of alcohol he’d consumed the night before.

    Where am I? Memory slowly returned through his aching brain. The Super 8 Motel. It had been close and cheap, and he hadn’t wanted to go back home after the binge he’d gone on.

    He sat up and pulled back the motel sheets and bedspread from his naked form. If Gio had been mad at him before, he’d be livid now. And he should be. What a boneheaded move, Alex.

    The cow skull in the watercolor painting on the wall glared down at him as if in judgment.

    God, his head was pounding. He stumbled into the bathroom and ran the water until it was hot. Then somehow he managed to get himself into the shower. He breathed in the steam deeply, and the pressure in his head abated a little, enough that he could start to think.

    There was no choice other than to go home and face the music. This whole thing was his mess—he’d made it, and he’d have to live with it. But he could delay his hour of reckoning, at least for a little while longer. He stayed under the warm spray, letting himself forget what waited for him at home.

    Eventually the water ran cold and he had to leave the shower.

    Alex dried off and checked himself in the mirror. He didn’t look too bad, considering. His eyes were a little red, but they’d have to do. He rubbed his temples with his thumbs, willing the pain to go away.

    Alex didn’t have a fresh change of clothing with him, so he pulled his old ones back on. He could change when he got home.

    Then he noticed his phone. It was still where he’d plugged it in to charge upon reaching his room. At least he’d remembered to grab his charger on his way out of the house.

    He had it on Do Not Disturb because he hadn’t wanted to talk with Gio last night, not in the condition he’d been in.

    Alex’s phone was fully juiced up. He activated it, and a flood of texts and messages arrived, filling the motel room with a cacophony of beeps and dings.

    Jesus, did the Paxton deal go south? He’d hate to lose that commission.

    The thought fled his mind as he scanned the texts. Most were from their friend Oscar.

    Alex, they called me. Something happened to Gio. Where are you?

    On my way to the U of A Medical Center. Hope to see you there.

    At the hospital with Gio. It’s bad…. Alex, where are you?

    By the time Alex read the last one, he was at the car, fumbling to find his keys in his briefcase. He fished them out and hopped inside, not bothering with checkout. He threw the case in the passenger seat and peeled out of the motel parking lot.

    Hold on, Gio, hold on, he whispered to himself. I’m coming.

    He reached the University of Arizona Medical Center in record time, thanking the traffic gods when he didn’t have an accident and wasn’t stopped for a ticket. He parked in the first visible spot in the garage and jumped out, not even bothering to lock it, and ran toward the hospital lobby. A couple walking past shot him a sympathetic glance, but he ignored them. Gio, where are you?

    He reached the front desk, panting, hands outstretched on the cool surface as he fought to catch his breath. I’m looking… for… Giovanni.

    The woman at the desk put her hand on his. Calm down, sir. Catch your breath.

    He closed his eyes for a second, willing himself to be calm. Better? His eyes threatened violence if she didn’t say yes.

    She seemed to sense his urgency. Giovanni, you said?

    Alex swallowed hard and nodded. He took a couple of deep breaths and tried again. I need to find Giovanni Montanari.

    Let me look, she said, her voice full of sympathy. When was he brought in?

    He checked the messages on his phone. I don’t know. Late last night, maybe?

    She nodded. Okay, I found him.

    How is he?

    I’m sorry, sir. I can’t tell you that. You’ll have to talk to the doctor.

    He’s alive?

    She nodded again. Yes, sir. He’s in the burn ward. Take the elevator down that hall—she pointed—up to the third floor. Then follow the signs.

    He ran down the hall toward the elevator. Burn ward?

    The doors opened, and Alex sprinted out, pausing only a second to see which way the burn ward was. He almost knocked down a nurse carrying a tray of urine samples. Sorry!

    He ran headfirst into a bear of a man.

    Hey there, slow down. The man caught him before he could fall.

    It was Oscar. His friend helped him back up and guided him to a bank of chairs along one wall.

    Where is he? Alex was on the verge of panic.

    He’s okay for the moment. Oscar rubbed his eyes. They brought him in last night after the fire.

    Fire? Oh God, what fire?

    Oscar shook his head, narrowing his eyes. Where the hell were you, man? The fire that burned your house down.

    If Alex hadn’t already been sitting down, he would have collapsed then and there. We had a fight last night, he said softly, looking down at the tile floor. Then he couldn’t sit any longer. I need to see him. Where is he? His heart pounded in his chest, and he broke out into a cold sweat.

    I’ll take you to him, but Alex—Oscar put his big paw on his friend’s shoulder—he looks pretty bad. He led Alex down the hall to Gio’s room and opened the door quietly.

    Alex pushed past him and stopped dead.

    There he was, the love of Alex’s life. Gio lay in the hospital bed, looking small and forlorn, with a breathing mask attached to his face. The machine made soft sounds as air flowed in and out of Gio’s lungs. The back of his arms was covered with burns and some kind of salve, and an IV dripped fluids into his veins. His face was battered and bruised.

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