At thirty-two, Ari loves his life in small town northern Michigan, running his aquatic pet store, but he’s always yearned to visit a coastal state. Inexplicably, he’s felt a connection with the ocean his entire life, and when his cousin Todd calls to ask him to be his best man at his California ocean-side wedding, Ari jumps at the chance for a much needed vacation. When he arrives in San Diego, however, he makes some discoveries about himself and finds love in the process. He also finds himself embroiled in a disturbing murder mystery that he ultimately helps to unravel.
Ari’s saltwater aquarium tank required a lot more equipment than the freshwater tanks required. He’d invested in a top-quality live rock and protein skimmer and a special nitrate filter, and of course, he knew the exact techniques necessary to condition the water properly in order to maintain the appropriate salt content. Most importantly, he knew about the sea life that dwelled within the tank.
Having owned Tropic Cove Pet Store for almost a decade, he could answer just about any question regarding the Moorish idols, clown triggers, and purple tangs that coexisted in the tank. He knew which fish were predators and which were potential prey for said meat-eaters.
Though never having been to either the Atlantic or the Pacific, he’d always held a deep fascination for the ocean. That was partially why he’d invested so much in his little northern Michigan pet store. He enjoyed bringing a touch of the exotic to an otherwise drab and sometimes dreary rural community.
Not that he hated Boyne City, because Ari had lived there all his life and he loved the town and the people within. Yet sometimes he dreamed of places far away, states that bordered the coasts of the ocean. He delighted in watching the National Geographic channel and Animal Planet when they featured documentaries on sharks, dolphins, or whales. All sea life interested him.
So that morning when he got the call from his cousin Todd, asking him to be his best man, Ari was thrilled. Todd lived in California, which was where the wedding would take place, and that meant that now, finally at age thirty-two, Ari would have a legitimate excuse for taking a vacation to the West Coast. To the ocean!
Ari slipped his cell phone in his pocket and stared into the saltwater aquarium one more time. He watched and smiled as a school of crosshatch triggers swam by. Maybe he’d go deep-sea diving while there. No, there was no maybe about it. There’d be no way he’d make a trip all the way to the Pacific without exploring the ocean.
Todd and Ari had grown up together, and during their youth, their relationship seemed more like that of brothers or best friends than cousins. But after high school, their lives had taken different paths. Todd joined the Navy immediately after graduation, and after completing a four year sea tour, reenlisted. It seemed he might make a career of the military, but for whatever reason he’d accepted an honorable discharge after his second tour and settled in California. Ari’s only contact with Todd had been the Internet, following him on Facebook and occasionally chatting through instant message or email.
Though he missed his cousin, Ari knew their separation had probably been a good thing. Ari had never come out to Todd, and he wasn’t sure how well Todd would have accepted Ari being gay. Over the course of fourteen years, since he’d graduated high school, Ari had gradually revealed his sexual orientation to most of his family. It really hadn’t been that big of a deal. His folks were fairly progressive and took it in stride, even encouraging him to date and find a boyfriend.
And Ari had done exactly that, though his prospects in small-town northern Michigan were slim. But occasionally he’d travel to Traverse City, home of the closet gay bar. Or he’d make trips to Grand Rapids some weekends. And of course there was the Internet and Grindr. He’d met Ryan shortly after he turned twenty-three and subsequently embarked on his first pseudo-serious relationship. They dated exclusively and eventually started referring to each other as “boyfriend” or “partner.” It even got heavy enough that Ari had introduced Ryan to his parents.
But less than three years into the relationship, they’d drifted apart. Ryan had a job offer in Boston, and by that point, Ari’s pet store business had taken off. He had no intention of selling his business to move out East. And if he were to be completely honest with himself, he’d pretty much known from the beginning they had no long term future together. They were too different. Ryan had zero interest in the things Ari loved. He barely stepped foot in the pet store, and when he did, it quickly became obvious how much he detested the creatures Ari loved so much.
Ryan held a degree in human resource management, and he clearly preferred people over animals. Ari bordered on the opposite. He passionately loved animals, especially the aquatic ones. His relationship with Ryan had devolved over time to more or less one of fuck buddies. He cared for Ryan and wished him the best, but they were never even close to being soul mates.
On Ari’s thirtieth birthday, he bemoaned the death of his twenties and wondered if he’d ever meet someone with whom to share his life. Other than an occasional hookup, his life consisted of familial and platonic relationships, and he devoted most of his time to the pet store.
When Todd called him out of the blue and announced his engagement, a surge of excitement coupled with some trepidation washed over him. At last he’d make his way to the ocean, and in so doing, he’d be reunited with his cousin with whom he’d once been so close. Yet he wasn’t sure how Todd would feel about him when he found out Ari was gay. Would he be cool with a gay best man?