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Blueberry Boys by Vanessa North

 
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Book Info

About the Author
Author of over a dozen novels, novellas, and short stories, Vanessa North delights in giving happy-ever-afters to characters who don’t think they deserve them. Relentless curiosity led her to take up knitting and run a few marathons “just to see if she could.” She started writing for the same reason. Her very patient husband pretends not to notice when her hobbies take over the house. Living and writing in Northwest Georgia, she finds her attempts to keep a quiet home are frequently thwarted by twin boy-children and a very, very large dog.
Author Website
Publication Date
November 13, 2015
Pages
186
ISBN
978-1-62649-341-4
ASIN
B018POI6VC
Excerpt
Chapter One

Blueberries. Row upon row, acre upon acre. Connor’s arms ached with the memory of his first summer job. The dew glinting off the grass and leaves set his heart thumping thickly in his chest. Six said it was nostalgia, half dozen said grief. He lifted his camera from where it hung heavy around his neck and snapped a few photos. It was early yet; the golden hour hadn’t arrived, so there wouldn’t be any magic in the images. But he hadn’t come out here to make magic. He’d come to make a eulogy.

How many times could one man say good-bye to the same place?

He heard the diesel engine long before he bothered to turn around. This would be Bruce’s—no, Scott and Connor’s—tenant, probably wondering what Connor was doing here. Sure enough, the dually rumbled to a stop beside him, and a slender man about his own age stepped down from the cab. Brown hair and eyes, a hint of crow’s feet around the latter, unremarkable and yet appealing. Beautiful in that way strangers were, before you learned they hated cats or liked the wrong kind of country music.

“This is pr-private property. You c-can’t shoot pictures here.” The tenant’s voice was quiet, but with a firm set to his chin, he clearly meant business.

“It’s okay.” Connor tried to find a smile to offer him, but all he had was his name. “I’m Connor Graham.”

The man’s smile faded, and he ducked his head, swiping his Red Sox hat down and into his palms. “Man. I’m s-sorry. About your uncle.”

“Thank you. You’re the tenant, right? I’m sorry, I don’t know your name.” I hold his future in my hands; I should know his name.

“Jed J-Jones.”

Hell of a name for a man with a stutter.

Jed extended his hand slowly, like an afterthought. Connor reached to grasp it and ended up holding the hat. Jed flushed, grabbed it back, and placed it on his head with an exasperated huff. Then he took Connor’s hand in his, shaking firmly.

Jed’s hands were thin like the rest of him, fingernails stained purple around the edges. Connor didn’t know whether that spoke to his work ethic or his grooming habits, but found these farmer’s hands striking. He let go and lifted his camera.

“May I?”

“It’s your farm.” No bitterness there, just acquiescence.

“No, I mean, may I take your portrait?”

Jed’s face shuttered. “W-what for?”

“Because the first hour after sunrise, the world turns gold and gorgeous. Any minute now, the light is going to catch every bush here on fire—it’s going to be amazing. You’re here, you’re part of it, and I’d like you to be in the photograph.”

“Out here with b-burning bushes?” Jed raised a soft brown eyebrow and smiled.

“Please?”

“I guess.” He shrugged, then took off his baseball cap again. His hair was flattened close to his head, but puffed out a little around his ears. Hat head. Not something Connor was used to seeing in the city among the darlings of the male model set. And yet Jed lifted his chin with a model’s instincts, and the line of his jaw, the jut of his cheekbones were thrown into prominence. Beautiful.

“Here.” Connor pointed to the end of a row of bushes. “Stand just to the right of this one.” He stepped back and waited for the light. Jed studied Connor for a long moment—bemused or annoyed, Connor couldn’t tell—then turned his face to the east and watched in silence.

Jed was painted in gold and rose as the sun crept above the horizon. All around him, the sunlight caught on dew, limning the branches and leaves and casting a halo around Jed’s hair. It was almost enough to make Connor believe in angels. But not quite.

The clicks of Connor’s shutter sounded rapid-fire, loud in the morning stillness. Sure, he’d come out here to take photos of the farm, but this, this was so much better. This was the kind of portrait that won awards—a modern farmer, his baseball cap under his arm as he greeted the dawn. It felt intimate, sacred even. Connor wasn’t a lifestyle photographer, nor a documentarian. A photograph like this, of a man in his element, seemed surreal to someone who plied his trade in the carefully crafted falsehoods of fashion photography.

Jed turned his face back to Connor, smiled, and said, soft as can be, “Ch-cheese.”

Connor snapped a last shot and then lowered the camera. “Thanks.”

Jed ducked his head and nodded.

“I’ll let you go back to work.” Connor gestured to the truck. “I’ll take a few more photos of the farm, if that’s okay.”

“It’s y-your farm.” Jed repeated with a shrug. “I just work it.”

Connor nodded, awkward in the face of Jed’s acceptance of his place here. A place Connor didn’t feel a claim to, and didn’t want to. “Okay, thanks.”

Placing his hat on his head, Jed tipped it gently in Connor’s direction and climbed back into his truck. Connor watched him drive away, ignoring the temptation to photograph the tracks he left in the mud like so much graffiti. Jed was here. He wasn’t what Connor had expected when Marty Sullivan told him there was a tenant living in the main house and working the land.

The farmers he’d known as a child had been men like his uncle—big, brawny, and well used to a day’s work. Jed Jones was built like he’d fall over in a strong wind, with a body more in common with the lithe young things Connor photographed than with the rednecks who’d had no patience for Bruce Graham’s chubby sissy-boy nephew.

“Ch-cheese.”

Models didn’t say “Cheese.”

Connor took more photos, following the light across the landscape—still golden and glorious—but the feeling of capturing something special had ridden away with Jed Jones and his dually.

Not twenty minutes later, a truck rolled up and gangly high school kids with their braces and their awkward flirtations piled out and set to work removing berries from the bushes. The wet thunk of berries dropping into the buckets they wore around their necks made Connor smile as he remembered working next to his friend Kyle Bauer, trying not to stare at his muscular legs, or to laugh harder at his jokes than anyone else did. That summer, Connor had still thought he had secrets.

“Hey Connor, check this out!” Kyle held out a blueberry the size of a half-dollar. “You ever seen one this big?”

Connor shook his head, wiping sweat from his eyes, and dumped the contents of his bucket in the carrier at his feet. Purple pints today. An expensive variety. Bruce didn’t usually trust the teens with these.

“Here, you have it, if I eat any more blueberries, I’m gonna be sick.”

And then Kyle’s hand was at Connor’s mouth, stifling a gasp of shock by slipping the berry between open lips. The dry brush of Kyle’s thumb whispered across Connor’s lower lip and the sweetness of the berry broke across his tongue.

Connor shuddered, remembering the innocent touch and Kyle’s awkward smile, followed by a shrug. They’d both had boners tenting their shorts, though neither had said anything. What’d ever happened to Kyle Bauer?

Several rows down, another truck dropped a crew of adult workers who spoke a language Connor didn’t recognize, laughing easily with each other. This crew was mostly women, but with a few men too, and they worked with an efficiency the kids lacked. They would harvest twice as many berries as the kids, but they wouldn’t enjoy themselves half as much. Once they spotted Connor, there was a grimness to the way they moved, and they gave him curious glances, eyeing his camera warily. Time to go.

Lights shone inside the farm offices when he returned to where he’d parked his rental car, so Connor headed up the familiar steps to the little trailer where Bruce used to hand out paychecks. He knocked, which felt weird because he owned it, but appropriate because he was a stranger to whoever worked inside. He’d just get an email address to send the portrait to, and then he’d be on his way.

“Come in!”

Stepping into the trailer was like stepping back in time. The same ugly desk and chairs, the same card table—though a new microwave. The same stifling lack of air conditioning. On the floor next to the desk, a toddler in a diaper made engine noises as he pushed his blocks around on ancient stained carpet. The kid had the same light-brown hair as Jed Jones, and he flashed Connor a drooly smile.

“Can I help you?” The woman behind the desk smiled expectantly. She was familiar in a way that made Connor think she was from around here but not Blandford. He racked his brain for a name, finally gave up, and introduced himself.

“I’m Connor Graham.”

Her face fell, and she extended her hand. “Of course, I should have known. Hannah Jones—you probably don’t remember me from school, I was a freshman when you were a junior—my maiden name was Bradshaw. I’m so sorry for your loss.”

“Hannah Bradshaw,” he repeated, suddenly placing her. “You played Éponine when the high school did Les Mis. Better than at least one I’ve seen on Broadway.” Easy and completely untrue flattery, but it made her blush and smile, so he couldn’t regret the lie.

“You’re kind to say so.”

The door opened behind him and Jed walked in, pausing when he saw Connor. He pulled off his hat and gave a gruff nod, which Connor returned.

Jed glanced at the child on the floor and sort of grimaced, then said, “Hannah, we got sh-shoestring in the Rancocas. Can you call M-Mike and get him out here to help me? S-same pay.”

“You got it.” She picked up the phone on the desk and started dialing.

Jed turned to Connor. “You get all the p-pictures you need?”

Connor nodded. “I was just leaving. That thing, the shoestring thing . . . is it serious?”

“Hopefully it’s j-just the one plant. Won’t impact the value of your land.”

“But your crop?”

“Is n-n-none of your business.”

Gone was the soft-smiling man Connor had met in the field at dawn. In his place was another hard-faced farmer, worried about pests and disease and scowling at children. God, they were all alike, weren’t they?

“I wasn’t asking because I was worried about money. I was worried for you. Forget it.”

Jed’s face softened. “W-we’ll be fine.”

“Okay, then. I’m going to go. Do you have an email address? I can send you the photos I took.”

He glanced at his shoes. “We’re on F-Facebook. The f-farm. You can send them there.”

“I’ll look you up.” Connor offered his tenant—because that’s who Jed was, not a model to be photographed, but the man renting Connor’s land—a hesitant smile, then backed his way out of the trailer.

***

Jed watched out the window as his new landlord got into a little silver rental car and drove away. He was only halfheartedly listening to his sister-in-law call Mike to ask for help. It had been a long time since Jed had examined the blueberries and seen anything other than profit. Or loss. That it was his new landlord who made him see poetry there—well, he wasn’t quite sure what to think about that. Wasn’t sure what to think about the way Graham had regarded him either—meeting his eyes and lighting up like he saw poetry in Jed, too. It gave him all kinds of butterflies in his stomach. Damn. He shook his head and glanced over his shoulder, just in time to see Billy trying to climb the card table.

“W-whoa, little buddy. That th-thing is not g-gonna hold your weight.” He scooped up the toddler. “You sick again?”

Billy stuck two fingers in his mouth and laid his chubby head on Jed’s shoulder. “Thed,” he said around his fingers.

“Yeah, B-Billy.”

“Mike’ll be here shortly, he just needs to finish up a brake job.” Hannah came around the coffee table to take Billy. “I’m sorry I had to bring him with me today. Dev can’t take the kids if they’ve had a fever within twenty-four hours, and he had a small one last night. I think it was just teething, but what can you do? I’m sorry I didn’t tell you ahead of time.”

“J-just took me by surprise.”

“So, that’s the new landlord.” She jutted her chin toward the door. “I went to high school with him. He remembered me in the class play. Isn’t that a queer thing to remember?”

“Yep.” Jed peered out the window again, even though Connor Graham’s car was long gone. He didn’t know if Hannah meant queer like weird, or queer like him, but he wasn’t about to ask.

“Think they’re gonna sell?”

Jed’s stomach turned. He hoped not. His current lease had fewer than two years left. Finding a piece of land to farm was hard when you couldn’t afford to buy your own. And what else could he do? It wasn’t like he could take a job working with people to tide him over until he could afford to buy. If Connor and Scott decided to sell . . . Bitterness swept over him. Some men, men who could talk freely, could call the world their oyster. Any pearls destined for Jed were close to home and to the people who tolerated his stammer.

“I d-don’t know.”

“Are you going to make an offer if he does?”

“I c-can’t. D-don’t have e-e-enough. Still paying off my student loans. Maybe—maybe when the l-lease is up.”

Hannah placed a soothing hand on his arm. “I didn’t mean to upset you, Jedidiah. I just wondered.”

“I’ll be in the Rancocas. Send M-Mike out.”

***

Four. Four infected plants identified by the time Mike arrived. They could be removed and burned, but if aphids were spreading the disease, who knew how many plants had been compromised already? Jed grimaced and moved to the next bush.

“Here’s another one,” Mike called from the end of the row as he tied a strip of bright tape around a limb. “What are you going to do?”

“I don’t f-fucking know,” Jed muttered. “R-reconsider organic certification?”

Mike scowled. “Why you even bother—”

“I b-bother because it’s my j-job,” Jed snapped, moving to the next bush. Because I love it. Because growing things matters. And growing them right—that mattered too.

“You can come work at the shop for me. You’re good with transmission work—and small engines. We could add a new specialty.”

“I’m n-not a mechanic; I’m a f-farmer. And it’s n-not like you have enough w-work to go around.” Because in the end, in Mike’s shop? It always came down to not enough work to go around, and Mike had kids and a wife, and Jed only had himself.

“I think you should pray about it, Jedidiah. Maybe this is a sign.”

“Wh-what?” Jed glared at his brother.

“This disease. The landlord dying. All happening at the same time.”

The fuck it was. Jed loved his older brother—had damn near worshipped him at some stages in his life—but drew the line at accepting the idea that God randomly destroyed shit to prove a point. Not just because Mike thought he should “pray about it” and maybe “come work for me.”

“I d-don’t b-believe that’s how the L-Lord works.”

“Isn’t for you to say, bro.”

Lots of things weren’t apparently. Jed stomped his shovel into the dirt and grunted. Had Mike’s theology or his self-interest provoked that remark? And who was Jed to question his brother’s motives?

“Isn’t for you to say either, Mike.”



- See more at: http://riptidepublishing.com/titles/blueberry-boys#sthash.p7PbmaC6.dpuf
Connor Graham is a city boy—a celebrated fashion photographer in New York. When his uncle’s death drags him back to the family blueberry farm, all he wants to do is sell it as quickly as he can. Until he meets his uncle’s tenant farmer.

Jed Jones, shy and stammering, devout and dedicated, has always yearned for land of his own and a man to share it with. Kept in the closet by his church, family, and disastrous first love, he longs to be accepted for who he is. But now, with his farm and his future in Connor’s careless hands, he stands to lose even the little he has.

Neither man expects the connection between them. Jed sees Connor—appreciates his art and passion like no one else in this godforsaken town ever has. Connor hears Jed—looks past his stutter to listen to the man inside. The time they share is idyllic, but with the farm sale pending, even their sanctuary is a source of tension. As work, family, and their town’s old-fashioned attitudes pull them apart, they must find a way to reconcile commitments to their careers and to each other.

Editor reviews

1 reviews

Sweet and Enjoyable read
Overall 
 
4.0

Connor grew up as the chubby gay kid in a small town in Massachusetts. A talented photographer, he left the blueberry farm along with the religious bigotry and narrow mindedness of the small town behind for the bright lights and a successful career in New York. When his uncle passes away and leaves the farm to him and his brother he returns home to attend the funeral and settle the estate. When he visits the farm he meets the tenant, Jed. Jed is closeted and has a deep faith. He struggles with being gay and is fearful of how his family and the very religious town members will react if his secret is ever discovered.

There were things I loved about this story and things I didn't care much for. I loved that both of these men aren't perfect. Jed is quiet, because he has a stutter. Connor always has, and still faces body image issues. I'm so happy that these characters weren't perfect. They had flaws and the author embraced those flaws. It's refreshing to read about a set of characters that aren't perfect. This is my first book by this author, and  I loved her writing. It was easy to read and flowed well. She drew me in and held on to the last word. The main characters were both very likable and easy to root for. My problem is, as much as I loved the book and the characters, I never felt that true connection or chemistry between the main characters. The sex was steamy, but something was missing.

Even without the chemistry this was still a very enjoyable read. Definitely recommended!!

TC
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