“To be honest with you, I don't have the words to make you feel better, but I do have the arms to give you a hug, ears to listen to whatever you want to talk about, and I have a heart; a heart that's aching to see you smile again.” ~ Laura Ortiz
Barney Teegarden, in 'Coming Back' by John Inman, needs a new place to live. His friend and coworker, Jeff, suggests he try the Belladonna Arms, where he and his wife live. After seeing the place and meeting some of the tenants, Barney is hesitant, afraid he won't fit in. Jeff senses his discomfort and tries to ease it with the following conversation:
“You’re gay, aren’t you?”
“You need a place to live, don’t you?”
“You want to fall in love, don’t you?”
“No,” I said. “I want someone to fall in love with me.”
Jeff reassures him by saying: “Everyone who lives under this roof finds love.”
Barney comes to the apartment building where a yard sale going on. It gives him an opportunity to meet the tenants who, at best, are eccentric and definitely gay. The longer Barney is there, the more he wonders if he will fit in at the Belladonna Arms. Finally his friend takes him to meet Arthur, the landlord, who offers Barney an apartment that Barney accepts, while trying to keep an open mind about the 'falling in love' part. Arthur soon enlists Barney in a secret recognizance mission to find a lost friend. The lost friend turns out to be Ramon, a former tenant who left Belladonna Arms shortly after his lover Chi Chi died. Barney is taken with him right away, street person garb and all, and insists he come back to Belladonna Arms with them.
Ramon has lost everything. Knowing he needs help, he uneasily accepts Arthur's offer to assist. Arthur gives Ramon the room next to Barney's, just until he can get back on his feet. With the help of proximity, patience, and a pudgy cat, Ramon slowly begins to heal. He appreciates Barney's ability to just 'be there' for him; to let him cry, scream, vent, and have the space to work things out in his head. Their feelings for each other grow although it takes both men a while to admit it to each other. Ramon gets a not-so-great job, but at least it's a start. Roman's dream of becoming a hairdresser was squashed when he ran away. Trying to get Ramon motivated, Arthur tells Barney about Ramon's passion; Barney sets up a situation whereby Ramon is encouraged to cut hair again. Everyone in the apartment building volunteers to get a haircut, which is definitively a labor of love considering Ramon, although working with hair is his passion, is a terrible hair stylist. Ramon's confidence is boosted by his neighbors and friends and his lover; he is finally able to look toward the future.
It's difficult to describe how much I loved this story. Having read the other stories in the series, I knew Ramon had left in shame and I felt terribly sorry for him. I was delighted when his friends cared enough for him to find and bring him back into the fold. I was also happy to see him and Barney get together. Their scenes together are so touching, so achingly beautiful, while passionate at the same time. An intimacy forms between that surpasses what having sex would have been and it's simply lovely. There are also happy times, even hilarious ones. Ramon's haircutting sessions are beyond hilarious. I haven't laughed that much for a long time. John has the ability to take a serious subject such as guilt and turn it into one of hope.
If you've read and enjoyed the first two Belladonna Arms stories, you will love this one even more. For new readers, John does a great job of filling in essential details without bogging down those who have read other two stories, but you will miss a lot which is only learned by reading all three. If you enjoy angst, true friendship, hot sex, tenderness, humor, redemption, and forgiveness, you may like this book. Thanks, John, I truly enjoyed this story.