Title ~ Leaving Flowers
Authors ~ Raine O’Tierney & Debbie McGowan
Publisher ~ Beaten Track Publishing
Published ~ 1st May 2015
Genre ~ MM Contemporary Romance
Shy and awkward since childhood, Aidan Degas is now a man lost. His twin—Aidan’s other half, Nadia—died tragically young, leaving him with nothing to get him through his days but his job at the prestigious Grand Heights Luxury Apartments and the flowers he lays upon her grave. When Aidan is assaulted on the job by a tenant, it’s the graveyard he turns to for strength and solace.
Patrick loves being assistant groundskeeper at the sprawling cemetery where he tends graves and offers a bit of comfort to mourners. When he sees a sad young man lingering over an old grave, his curiosity is strangely piqued for reasons he doesn’t understand. He’s never done this—struck up a friendship with a mourner. But soon that friendship blossoms into a romance.
It’s not going to be easy for the pair. Aidan is so damaged, like petals crushed in an angry fist, and even with Patrick’s warm heart and Irish charm, it might not be enough to bring him back from the edge.
When I first started reading “Leaving Flowers”, I confess that I didn’t hold out much hope for this book. The main character, Aidan, came off as one of those infantilized men you run across in mediocre gay novels – more like a 12-year-old prepubescent girl than an adult gay man. And, to be honest, I just hate that.
But I withheld judgment (sometimes I actually do something reasonably smart) and, by the time I finished this beautiful novel, I understood and appreciated where the authors were coming from, and what they had accomplished.
The other main character is Patrick (Paddy), a thoroughly Irish, beautiful young man with a gorgeous body, covered in freckles from head-to-toe, which goes perfectly with his fire-red hair. His most endearing characteristic is his upbeat personality. Despite being a cemetery groundskeeper, he’s almost always happy. Dealing with an endless stream of grief-stricken mourners, he never stops appreciating and loving the lush, life-affirming landscape he nurtures, offering survivors a brief glimpse of color, promise and beauty. And he smiles, almost all the time.
The two meet when Patrick is closing the cemetery, one evening, and has to ask Aidan to leave. The rest is history. Two beautiful men, in a cemetery, of all places, eyes meet, instant love, or at least lust, or perhaps just strong attraction. Over the next few weeks, they conspire to meet “accidentally” until Aidan gets up the nerve to ask Paddy out on a “friendship” date, not yet ready to admit to the undeniable and intense attraction between the two men.
The date goes well. The dialogue they share is charming, witty, and expresses the growing affection between them, without ever using the actual words.
Well, this is a gay romance novel, so all does not, of course, go well. As Patrick discovers who Aidan is, he begins to understand the dreadful issues Aidan is suffering through. The grave he’s visiting is his twin sister’s, who died in childbirth, and Aidan just can’t seem to move on from his memories and his grief. It’s ruining his life and any chance at a good one, a fulfilling one, or even the remotest possibility of love.
The relationship continues, becoming even more intense the more they know about each other, the more experiences they share, and with every passionate, intimate encounter. The authors put it much better than I can. As Aidan mulls the ardent, persistent, yet gentle love that Patrick offers him, he muses:
“Patrick Williams had been witness to Aidan’s few ups, his many, many downs, and a whole bushel of crazy. And yet, he’s stayed…”
It’s a perfect description of the dysfunctional relationship that develops between the two men – dysfunctional on Aidan’s part, but refreshingly functional, steady and determined on Patrick’s.
This book is about the journey that Aidan takes to get a life, a life apart from his beloved sister. A life that moves on without forgetting:
“…learning to let go of Nadia without losing Nadia.”
My initial impression of Aidan was not entirely off-base. He was undoubtedly suffering a bad case of arrested development, even before Nadia died, only three years ago. He’s a 27-year-old virgin, but the timeline means that he was a 24-year-old virgin, even before his twin sister passed away. What changed my initial dismay was the fact that his arrested development was entirely intentional, used by the authors to express a dynamic between twins that is not always positive, especially when one is dominant and the other passive. One twin comes to rule both lives, which is never a good thing. In Aidan’s case, he was left with guilt, loss and grief, but none of the internal drive or tools to live, grow and make his own decisions.
You would think that he would just substitute Patrick for Nadia, passively accepting Patrick’s guidance and decisions. But you’d be wrong. Aidan comes to life under Patrick’s patient love, as a full and equal partner, as a strong adult man charting out his own future. That’s Patrick’s special gift, not to dominate Aidan (thank heavens, there’s none of that is this gentle book), but to grow the other man’s soul and independence, just as he plants and nurtures the flowers he lovingly cultures.
In lesser hands than Ms. O’Tierney’s and Ms. McGowan’s, “Leaving Flowers” could easily have devolved into melodrama. But they’re both accomplished and talented authors whose prose, settings and dialogue are virtually flawless, and whose characters are, ultimately, endearing and moving.
Yes, there were a few obligatory gay-romance memes, such as a hospitalization and a sexual assault, but most fortunately, no wrestling with orientation, oppression, coming out, or any of the rest of the panoply of standard gay-romance clichés. I applaud the authors for their sensitivity and the authenticity of the emotions they evoke so exquisitely and subtly.
The book left me in tears of joy, just for the simple love and compassion of these very special characters and the talented authors who so lovingly nourished them.
If you’re looking for a book that’s different, and moves you without manipulating you, then I can highly and heartily recommend “Leaving Flowers”. It won’t disappoint.