Monday, December 27, 2010

Butterfly's Child excerpt by Alan Chin

Alan Chin wrote about Butterfly's Child that, "A few years ago, while there was considerable controversy about gay couples adopting children in some southern states, I decided I needed to write something regarding gay-parented families. I wanted to make a statement that traditional, straight parents did not necessarily provide a better environment for children, and that gay couples could provide a stable, loving atmosphere where kids could flourish. This is a story I slowly, but assuredly fell in love with through the telling – mostly because of the kids."

While back in the West to attend his grandmother’s funeral, Cord Bridger uncovers two shocking revelations: his grandmother had a lesbian lover named Juanita, and he has a teenaged son named Kalin. Fate brings all three together, but to preserve his new family, Cord must leave his safe life in New York City behind to carve a living from the harsh ranch lands of Nevada.

To forge a life with Juanita and Kalin, Cord must first discover the dark secret burning a hole in Kalin’s heart. With the help of Tomeo, a handsome Japanese veterinarian, Cord travels a gut-wrenching road of triumphs and tragedies to insure his son will survive the sinister violence of his past. But as Tomeo becomes more than just a helpful friend to Cord, a new set of problems arise between Cord and Kalin that may threaten the happiness of them all.

Butterfly’s Child
Dreamspinner Press (December 3, 2010)
ISBN-10: 1615816585 (paperback)
ISBN-13: 978-1615816583
ASIN: B004EYT31A (ebook)


Jem sat on the edge of his bed wearing only his jockey shorts. He scrutinized Kalin, his older brother, who stood naked before a mirror hanging on the door, teasing his hair into spikes with a can of hairspray. The door, like everything in the mobile home, was made of aluminum and particleboard covered with a plastic veneer made to look like wood.

The window in their bedroom faced east and looked out onto the crooked rows of dusty trailers and a sprinkling of cactus in the OK Corral trailer park. The Nevada desert sun streamed through the red curtains, staining Jem’s jockey shorts a dried-blood color.

The cool thing about living in this choky trailer, Jem thought, was that he slept in the same bed with Kalin. Since moving here three weeks ago, he woke every morning to the feel of warm breath curling on the back of his neck and silky skin cocooning the length of his body. He would snuggle into his brother until Kalin woke and went to pee. That one advantage made coming here the best thing that had ever happened to him, and worth everything that came before.

When they’d lived in LA with Jack, who was Jem’s father but not Kalin’s, they’d had bunk beds. Jem slept on the top bunk, but on the nights his mother worked the late shift, Kalin made him sleep on the floor under his brother’s bed. Jem thought about those steamy nights he lay pressed to the floorboards, when the door would creak open and his father’s voice would cut through the darkness. He shut off the thought as a gust of wind rocked the trailer, hissing through tiny gaps in the aluminum window frame.

Jem studied his brother’s body, checking for any new changes that might have developed since yesterday. Amazingly enough, it did seem to alter day by day, sprouting taller while the outlines of his muscles became more defined. He had that pinched look, especially around the forehead, of a boy who had grown a great deal in a short time.

Kalin looked nothing like Jem or their mother. Lean as a broom handle, he had piercing blue eyes and hair so black it shone blue, like a raven’s wing in strong sunlight. Both Jem’s and their mother’s faces were soft and oval, with hair and eyes the color of the Jack Daniels she kept in the cupboard.

Jem winced as he zeroed in on the welts laid across his brother’s back, butt, and thighs. That was the worst part about moving here: Mr. Rickard, the school principal, had whipped his brother twice. Schools here had a different way of dealing with troublemakers, and although Kalin denied any wrongdoing, he had somehow gotten on the mean side of Mr. Rickard, as if Rickard had hated him even before they’d met.

The sparse patch of hair above Kalin’s penis seemed thicker than a week ago, as did the hair in his armpits. Jem’s mother had long ago told him that dirt particles got under the skin and became hair follicles, so when he was in the tub he needed to scrub everywhere or else he’d end up looking like his father, whose body resembled a gorilla. Kalin showered daily, but he obviously missed those three areas. It’s the shower. That never happened in LA when we took baths.

That was the other bad thing: this crummy trailer was too small to have a bathtub. He missed the fun of them bathing together.

Sounds sifted through the wall separating their bedroom from the bathroom—water splashed in the sink, the cabinet door squeaked, the whir of the hairdryer. He knew his mother would soon be ready.

Over those sounds, he heard a dog bark from three trailers away, the yappy one with camel-colored hair and a pug nose. Jem wished for the millionth time his mother would let him have a puppy, a Chocolate Labrador, maybe, or an Airedale. Something to keep him company while she worked and Kalin attended school. Her latest excuse was he would start kindergarten in the fall, after a one-year delay, and who would care for the dog while he was in class?

Jem eyed the welts on his brother’s butt again and hoped he could somehow avoid school altogether. His act had so far convinced his mother to keep him home. But now that he had turned seven the county authorities insisted he attend school, act or no act.

He tried not to stare, but his brother was eight years older, and Kalin had the added prestige of having played Little League. At least he did before they moved here.

Another sound floated across the mile of desert separating them from the highway—the throaty roar of eighteen-wheelers. They never seemed to stop in this town, the trucks or the cars, not for gas or a burger or any other damned thing. No one gave a lick about this dusty, nothing town.

Kalin caught him watching. They stared eye to eye via the reflection in the mirror. Kalin hesitated, offered a wan smile. A heartbeat later came the moment when Kalin could no longer look him in the eye. Kalin stepped to the dresser and slid open a drawer.

A bleached cow skull they had found by the highway stood on the dresser. Kalin had his stash of cigarettes hidden inside the skull. He had been smoking for three years, pilfering his mother’s Pall Malls at the rate of two or three per day. Above the skull, tacked to the wall beside Kalin’s Che Guevara poster, were five hawk feathers fanning out in a circle.

Kalin stepped into a pair of jockey shorts and tugged a T-shirt over his narrow shoulders. He tossed a white T-shirt to Jem.

Using grunts, squeaks, hand signs, and facial expressions—the language he and Kalin had created in LA—Jem told his brother he wanted the Luke Skywalker T-shirt.

Kalin tossed it to him. “Use real words when it’s only you and me, little brother. Save your act for the grownups.”

“Real words ain’t as much fun.”

“And don’t pick your nose.”

“But it’s clogged up.”

“Here’s a handkerchief, blow,” Kalin said.

“Pickin’s easier.”

“I don’t want no damned nosepick for a brother.”

“Well, I don’t want no bedwet for a brother.”

“Shut up,” Kalin said. “I’ve only done it once since we came here.” Kalin shoved Jem, the way boys roughhouse.

“I don’t mind,” Jem said while fighting back as best he could.

Kalin held his handkerchief under Jem’s nose for him to blow, then ran his fingers through Jem’s hair and rubbed.

The bathroom door creaked. Their mother’s voice filtered through the particleboard, telling them to hurry.

Jem heard the excited tones in her voice and her quick steps to the kitchen. She was all wound up, the way she got around any new man. He knew she expected Kalin’s father to attend the funeral.

“You think she’ll wear her red dress that shows off her titties?” Jem asked.

“No, little brother. Everybody wears black to a funeral.”


“To show how sad you feel.”

“I’m not sad. She was mean!”

“I know, little brother. But because she was my great-grandma, I gotta look all torn up, even if she didn’t like us. So we wear our Sunday clothes and act real sad.”

That’s good, Jem thought. If she can’t show off her titties then maybe we’re safe. No titties means no man coming to live with us. We can stay in this choky shoebox with its flimsy walls and fake wood, buried in this dusty, nothing town. Safe. If only I had a puppy.

Kalin pulled their white dress shirts and gray corduroy suits from the closet and laid them on the bed, then the white socks and sneakers from the chest of drawers.

“So what will she wear?”

“Her dark gray dress that shows off her butt.”

They both snickered as they dressed.

“Is your daddy gonna be there?” Jem said.

“Who knows. I don’t care either way.”

“You don’t want to see him?”

“No, little brother. He’s just another dickwad who didn’t stick around.”

“Tomeo ain’t no dickwad,” Jem mumbled. “I want him to marry Mama so he’ll be our daddy.”

“You’re so clueless. Tomeo isn’t the kind of man who marries women.”

“Because he’s too nice?”

“No, little brother. Because he likes dick.”

“Dick who?”

“Like I said, clueless.”

Jem only remembered living with his father at the apartment in East LA, but he knew that before he was born, his mother and Kalin lived in another trailer with Tony (the construction worker who put her in the hospital four times), and before that was Luke (who weighed over three hundred pounds because he drank two six packs of beer every night), and before that was Bob (who was now in jail for writing bad checks). There were others before them, but Kalin never talked about them because he was too young to know much. Kalin told him once that their mother was like a puppy who followed any swinging dick that strolled by.

“You think he’ll come live with us?” Jem couldn’t keep the fear out of his voice.

Kalin sat on the bed, slid his arm across Jem’s shoulder, and pulled him close.

“Don’t worry, little brother,” he whispered. “I’ll protect you. If he treats us bad, I’ll wait until he falls asleep and beat the piss out of him with my baseball bat.”


Kalin nodded, saying to hurry and dress. The tone in his voice made Jem think he was fibbing about not wanting to see his father, but he liked the idea of Kalin protecting him with his bat. If Southern California’s Little League had kept records, Jem had no doubt that Kalin would hold the all-time title for strikeouts. That was because Kalin swung the bat as hard and fast as he could at every ball.

Jem shimmied into his Star Wars T-shirt, reached up and ran the flat of his hand over the Luke Skywalker picture. The fabric’s coolness felt good, and Luke made him feel powerful. He often dreamed of running away to find new friends who’d teach him the Jedi way. Then he could battle his corrupt father and the evil empire. Kalin could be his R2D2. Yes, he knew that within his chest beat the heart of a Jedi. It was his most closely held secret. But he also knew Kalin wouldn’t go with him. Too old for Star Wars, Kalin was into Che Guevara and envisioned himself riding a motorcycle cross-country, overthrowing governments and being a hero. Every since Kalin had seen The Motorcycle Diaries, he had dreamed of being Che with the same fervor with which Jem longed to be Luke.

Jem slid into his dress shirt and buttoned it up. It smelled like the thrift shop they’d bought it in, mothballs and mildew. The corduroy pants and jacket had the same faint odor, but he liked the way the fabric felt against his palm.

Kalin laced up Jem’s sneakers, though Jem knew how to do it himself, and ran a comb through his hair, parting the long strands on one side to sweep across his forehead.

“Kalin, Jem,” their mother called.

Jem glanced in the mirror before opening the door. But rather than checking the way he looked, he sneaked a peek at Kalin, who looked defiant in his thrift store suit and clip-on tie. But what Jem zeroed in on was the unmistakable excitement in those blue eyes. He scanned the room in the glass, their cozy fake-wood hideaway, then summoned up his resolve, as if he were about to plunge into icy water. He opened the door and hurried down the narrow hallway.

Jem loved his mother, but he didn’t trust her. He trusted no one but Kalin. No, perhaps Tomeo, too, although I don’t know Tomeo very well yet. He could be cheerful with his mother, but he would assume his usual manner, his act.

His mother sat at the table while she sipped at a cup of instant coffee and smoked a cigarette. “Good morning, little man. Don’t you look grown-up in your suit and tie. You both do. I’m so proud of you.” She drew on her cigarette and blew smoke toward the open doorway.

The room was stuffy with smoke. Jem noticed the spicy odor of marijuana lingering in the air. He also saw the shine in his mother’s eyes. It was okay, he thought, she only smoked when things got too nervous. Like the whiskey in the cupboard, she only took a little at a time to smooth things out. At least he’d never seen her in a sloppy condition.

As Kalin had predicted, she wore her dark gray dress that showed off her fanny. It also showed the bulge in her belly, and her long sleeves hid the needle marks on her forearms. Her hands and wrists showed, thin and elegant, with long tapered fingers and glossy nails. Her hair was pulled back and tied in a ponytail, accentuating her thin face, so thin she looked like Tomeo. In fact, if she had his slanted eyes, they could be brother and sister.

Her makeup was no heavier than usual, enough to hide the yellow bruises under her left eye that his father, Jack, had laid on her the night they left LA, and her smile seemed genuine for the first time since moving here. Jem had always thought she looked prettiest when she wore jeans, her pink polo shirt, and no makeup. Then she looked like a young mother. Her made-up look was not so nice.

She wore her good necklace and rings, not the phony Indian jewelry she made to sell to the tourist shops in Reno.

“Hurry and eat, boys. Tomeo will be here any minute.”

The refrigerator hummed. A fly thumped at the windowpane over the sink. The ash on her Pall Mall was about to fall, and Jem couldn’t keep from staring, waiting to see it break off and fall on the table, or the floor, or her lap. She never flicked her ashes into an ashtray; she let it burn down to the point it fell on its own. Then she would brush the smudge onto the floor from whatever surface it landed on.

Jem filled his bowl with cornflakes, scooped three spoonfuls of sugar onto the flakes, and then poured enough milk to cover it all. He dug in while Kalin filled his own bowl. Kalin didn’t use sugar or milk; he ate the flakes dry and then washed them down with a glass of milk.

“Now I want you boys to make me proud today,” she said. She ran her hand through Jem’s hair, and her smile widened. “No fighting and no tantrums. You hear me?”

They ignored her.

“Kalin, I want you to keep Jem under control. People don’t understand that he’s autistic, so don’t let him act up.”

“Ma,” Kalin said. “I keep telling you, he ain’t autistic. He just don’t trust people.”

“That’s ridiculous. Why wouldn’t he trust me? I’m his mother, for God sake. So you keep an eye on him.” She shook a finger at Kalin. “And if your daddy is there, you be respectful.”

Through the open doorway Jem heard the crunch of tires stopping on gravel.

“You promise me?” she said.

Kalin nodded.

“Jem,” she said. “I can see Luke Skywalker through your dress shirt. Go and change, sweetheart.”

He ignored her.

“Tell you what. If you change your T-shirt, I’ll ask Tomeo to stop and get a pizza after the service, and we can rent a video.”

He ignored her, still. He could feel her stiffen as she reached for the ashtray and stubbed out her Pall Mall. He expected her to yell or slam her fist on the tabletop. Because she was pregnant, Tomeo had explained, she was allowed these flare-ups. Both boys had to allow her, for now, to grow furious over nothing. It was a woman thing, he said.

To Jem’s surprise, she reached over and picked up a dry wishbone sitting on the counter, one from the KFC dinner they ate two nights ago. She held it out so that both boys could pinch a side, and told them to make a wish.

Jem closed his eyes and wished that they would make Tomeo their father and live in his apartment overlooking Main Street. He felt pressure on the bone. He opened his eyes and pulled. The bone bent and bent, then snapped, with Jem holding the larger piece. He cocked his head toward the open doorway and smiled while he waited to see Tomeo’s face.

His mother asked what he wished for as she lit another Pall Mall.

Using their secret language, he told Kalin he wished Tomeo would be their father. Kalin nodded in such a way that Jem knew he had wished for the same thing.

Kalin reached over and ruffled his hair.

“A puppy,” Kalin said. “He wished for a puppy.”
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Monday, December 20, 2010

The House in Birdgate Alley excerpt by Anel Viz

The novella The House in Birdgate Alley by Anel Viz is set in London, 1889. Dr. John Williams suspects somebody has been blackmailing one of his patients, Sir Hugh Cockburn. The same day, the body of a young man is found floating in the Thames. Mere coincidence, or is there a connection? Williams’ eccentric cousin, Cyril Fosterby, turns his mind to unraveling the mystery.

The House in Birdgate Alley
Silver Publishing (December 4, 2010)
ISBN: 978-1-920468-51-4

Excerpt from chapter 6
[The Situation: The victim having been identified as a male prostitute, Fosterby enlists Johnny Rice, who works out of the same brothel as the murdered man, to help find the killer. In this scene, Dr. Williams questions Johnny about his homosexuality.]

“Ever since I can remember I always been attracted to gents.”

“Don’t you think girls are pretty?”

“Very pretty, some of ’em are. They just don’t do nothin’ fer me.”

“You’ve never…?”

“Never. An’ I ’ope I never do. Now, the gents, I can’t get enough o’ them. Whatta yer ’ave t’ say to that? I mean, as a medical man.”

“That something must have gone wrong with your upbringing, because it simply isn’t natural to feel the way you do. But as a friend, I’d say that you’re well suited to your line of work.”

Johnny laughed. “That I am!”

“Now, shall we leave it at that? This is not something that interests me.”

“Not even as a man o’ science?”

“Not even as a man of science. Scientific opinion is unanimous on the subject, so the matter is settled. I see no reason to delve into it further.”

“Mr. Fosterby, now, ’e delves into ev’rythin’.”

“Did he question you on the matter, Johnny?”

“’E did… a little. To ’elp ’im form an opinion about Sir Hugh an’ Nelly.”

“And what did he have to say?”

“’E didn’t. ’E listened. Would yer care t’ ’ear what I told ’im?”

“I. Would. Not.”

His spirits appeared to have sunk back to the level they were at when he’d arrived. “What is it, Johnny?” I asked kindly.

“Nothin’. It’s just… Yer know, it ain’t easy bein’ the way I am.”

“I don’t imagine it is.”

“I used to ’ate meself fer it. Still do sometimes. D’ yer think I’m wicked, Dr. Williams?”

“We all have our imperfections, Johnny. I’m not about to condemn a man for where he places his affections. A thief or a murderer, now, that’s different. Dishonesty of any sort, in fact. So, no, I wouldn’t call you wicked, not on account of that. On the other hand, prostituting yourself is disgraceful. A boy of your intelligence and abilities!”

“I’d give it up in an second if I found a man I could love an’ ’oo’d love me in return.”

“Buckham found one, or so you tell me. Yet he remained a renter.”

“First of all, I ain’t Nelly. An’ second, ’e an’ ’is baronet couldn’t live together. Not ever.”

“Is your situation all that different? Would you be able to, if you found a man to love?”

“It weren’t Nelly’s choice they couldn’t be together. Maybe if my gen’leman was a proper gen’leman and unmarried, he’d take me on as ’is manservant an’ nobody wouldn’t suspect what we was fer each other. Whattaya think o’ that idea?”

“You’d have to learn to speak proper English first.”

“’Ow ’ard ’d that be?”

I shook my head sadly. “Such dreams are futile. Society would never tolerate it. Think of that, Johnny.”

“No, it wouldn’t and it don’t, so we ’as t’ ’ide what we are, chaps like me. Ain’t that dishonesty of a sort? Would yer call that kind o’ dishonesty wicked, too?”

I remembered what the Cockburn boy had said in his rooms at Cambridge, that polite society doesn’t like to hear truths it chooses to ignore. That, too, I reflected, was dishonest. I fell silent. After a few minutes, he asked, “Yer look pensive, Willie.”

“I’m reflecting on what I said before about not condemning a man for whom he chooses to love. I would not have thought that a month ago, before I met you.”

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Monday, December 13, 2010

Idaho Battlegrounds excerpt by Sarah Black

In the novella Idaho Battlegrounds by Sarah Black, Sheriff Grady Sullivan returns to Canyon County, Idaho, after his second tour in Afghanistan to find his department in disorder and his authority undermined. He’s determined to restore discipline, but he soon finds himself fighting for his job. The bright spot in his life is kindred soul Edward Clayton. But Edward isn't just raising dairy cows, and Grady is soon pulled into Edward’s Underground Railroad for illegal kids.

As noble as Edward’s work is, it’s illegal, and Grady is suddenly faced with losing everything he’s worked for and everything that matters to him as he’s forced to choose between Edward and the work that has always defined him.

Idaho Battlegrounds
Dreamspinner (November 24, 2010)


“Unit 12, this is Base. Sheriff, I’ve got a message for you.”

Grady thumbed the button on the radio. “Base, 12. What’s doing, Sanchez?”

“All quiet on the western front. How was the council meeting?”

Grady thought about all the people who could be listening in to the sheriff’s department radio. “It is what it is, bud.” Civilian speak for the military’s FUBAR. He had listened to forty-five minutes of discussion about enforcing the assigned parking spots for city council members at City Hall. When Grady had finally had enough of the whining and complaints, he suggested they had more critical issues to discuss, and proposed repeat parking offenders be drawn and quartered during the Thursday evening concert series. The council members had not been amused. Grady thought he would have to work a little harder to curb his irritation with the people who funded his department.

“I got a message for you, Boss. Some dude said to tell you book club’s cancelled for tonight.”

Grady frowned at the radio. “10-4, Base. Out.” Cancelled? What the hell? Damn cheese farmer. Didn’t he know you don’t blow somebody off before the first date? He grabbed the radio again. “Sanchez, I’m taking lunch.”

“Boss, it’s ten thirty.”


“Um, nothing. Out.”

Sanchez was a good guy. They were in the same National Guard unit and had only been back from Afghanistan and out of uniform about six weeks. Sanchez had two babies at home, and to hear him tell it, there would be another bun in the oven any day now.

Grady drove his cruiser along one of the back roads in Canyon County, Idaho. This was farm country, full of hard-working people, and his job was to keep them safe. He turned onto the road that lead to Edward’s little dairy farm.

Edward Clayton had fifty fat Jersey cows, a ramshackle barn, a milking shed, a tiny creamery, and a run-down little house. They had met the week before at the library in Melba. After Edward had left, the librarian, Miss Middlesex, had given Grady the rest of the story. “I don’t know what that man’s doing here,” she’d said. “He used to be some big-shot lawyer with the ACLU. Does he strike you as the back-to-the earth type? I think he’s in hiding.”

Grady didn’t know what the back-to-the earth type looked like. Compost under the fingernails? Maybe some loose alfalfa hay somewhere about their person? Edward was handsome, with long, slender fingers and a bony, elegant face. He had kind gray eyes, and Grady immediately wanted to see him in a silver-gray cashmere turtleneck. Or a cashmere robe, open at the neck. Grady spent all his time with men in uniform- Army National Guard, Sheriff’s Department. The high and tight was the haircut of choice. None of them had chestnut curls on the back of their necks, and Grady suspected this was the reason he kept reaching for those curls in his mind every time he closed his eyes.

He pulled into the farm, left his cruiser next to the house, and walked out to the barn. This time of day a busy farmer would be with his cows, or in the creamery making cheese. Most of the cows were already in the pasture next to the barn, their sweet brown faces turned up to the sun.

“I know you’re scared, but I’ll take care of you. Just take this in your mouth and suck on it a tiny bit.” Grady raised his eyebrows, watched Edward with the damp newborn calf in his lap. The baby was not interested in taking the bottle. He kept rooting around at Edward’s lap, covered now in a bright red apron with the words Curds and Whey in script.

“He’s looking for his mama, not some bony ACLU lawyer with a bottle.”

Edward looked up, and Grady felt a moment of dizziness, like he was falling into deep cool water. “I’m sorry about book club, Grady. I’ve had a death.”

“Cow, not human, right? Because I haven’t been informed of any human deaths.”

Edward gave him a crooked smile, hitched the baby up in his arms. “Cow,” he confirmed. “This baby’s mother died in childbirth, because I didn’t know what to do. And if I don’t get him to take his bottle, I’m going to lose him too.”

A woman came into the barn, drying her hands off on her apron. She had a worried, time-worn face, and she wore her thick dark hair bundled up at the nape of her neck. “Edward, there’s a Sheriff’s Department car at the house.”

Edward stood up quickly. “Mrs. Rodriguez.” Grady saw the alarm on her face, the quick blanch when she caught sight of him. “Sheriff Sullivan, this is Mrs. Rodriguez, my housekeeper. Temporary housekeeper. Emilia, this is Sheriff Grady Sullivan.”

Grady reached out and shook her hand. She was still pale, her dark eyes darting nervously from his face to his gun belt, and her hand was shaking slightly. “I’m sorry if I startled you. I just came to assist Edward in feeding the orphan.”

Mrs. Rodriguez and Edward studied him carefully from the tips of his polished black boots, up the knife creased khaki trousers, to the sturdy gun belt and the shiny badge pinned to his breast pocket. Edward was laughing, but Mrs. Rodriguez turned away with a sniff. “I hope whoever does your laundry knows how to get out milk stains,” she said, and she disappeared around the corner of the barn.

Grady shrugged. “I don’t think she likes my looks. Or maybe the cops are a little bit scarier wherever she’s from.”

Edward was next to him now, smelling of sweet buttermilk and smiling with those kind eyes. “Maybe we should have a don’t ask, don’t tell policy regarding the immigration status of my farm workers.”

Grady narrowed his eyes. “I am very familiar with that policy, being as I served four years on active duty in the Army. I would have to say such a policy sucks. But I don’t plan on rousting your temporary housekeeper. Whatever that means.”

“What are you doing out here, Grady?”

“I took my lunch break to come out here and kick your ass for blowing me off.”

“Your lunch break? Then the least I can do is feed you.” He put the little calf down in some straw.

Grady gestured to the door of the barn. Three pairs of brown eyes were peeking at him from around the corner of the big door. “Looks like you’ve got some more temporary housekeepers come to help.”

Edward gave him a look but waved the children in. The oldest was a girl, about eight, and she kept her two little brothers behind her. Edward gave her the bottle. “See if you can get the baby to take some of this milk,” he said, and when they left, the children were kneeling next to the calf, petting it and talking to it in soft Spanish voices.

Edward pushed open the door to the little creamery, and Grady followed him in. “How’re the elections going? Every time I go to town, seems like there’s a fight about to break out in the diner over the sheriff’s election. I’m not from around here, though, so nobody tells me anything.”

“I was elected six years ago,” Grady said, sliding onto a stool. Edward opened a big stainless Sub-Zero fridge and pulled out a couple of plates of cheese. “Then our National Guard unit was deployed to Afghanistan. We were gone with one thing or another for almost four years. About half of us were members of the unit. The ones that weren’t were left to run things. They hired some temp workers to fill in. When we came back, the maneuvering started. The temps claimed discrimination when the vets went back to their old jobs. There isn’t very much work out here, so the scramble for jobs was deadly serious, you know?”

“Did they do a good job while you were gone?”

Grady felt his jaw harden, and a muscle twitched along his temple. Edward had instincts like a shark. “No. They did not. The changes I’d made in the first two years disappeared, and the man chosen to be acting sheriff ran the county like an old fashioned mobster. Favors, threats, bribes. He’s managed to get a lot of people in debt to him or obligated to him in some way. And now he’s pulling in favors with both hands. I don’t know if he was counting on my not coming back, or maybe he thought I would come back too banged up to fight him. But I did come back, and I kicked his ass out of my chair and started to clean up.”

“That’s Devlin Barry?”

“Yeah. So he went back to his old job at dispatch and started shaking the trees. He convinced the city council to hold special elections, and he’s running for sheriff against me. He may win too. Maybe this place likes his way better than mine.”

“What’s your way?”

“I follow the rules. The laws. If they’re unfair, or unjust, the right thing to do is change them. There’re too many dangers to people when we live in the gray areas, adjusting the rules for every new situation. My job is the safety and security of the people of this county.”

Edward washed a bunch of red grapes in the sink and set them on one of the plates of cheese. “I think of the law as all gray areas, like it’s something alive, and it’s always evolving from this to that, depending on our understanding and interpretation. But that’s the way a lawyer is trained to see the law: open for interpretation. I get what you mean. For those charged with enforcing the law, you can’t waffle. The line you walk can’t change with every person.”

“What did you do with the ACLU?”

“GLBT rights projects and some immigrant rights.” He put a knife on one of the plates, and reached into a cabinet for a zip lock bag of crackers. “Try this fresh ricotta first,” he said, dipping the knife into a fluffy mound of white cheese. “I just made it this morning.”

Grady bit down into the cheese- it was light and sweet and rich, with a tiny hint of lemon. Like cheese ice cream.

“Hey, that’s good!”

“I’m going to toast a couple of pieces of bread,” Edward said. He slid one of the plates closer to Grady. “That hard cheese there, that’s Manchego. Usually it’s a sheep’s milk cheese, but I made this version with the cow’s milk. I really like it. So nutty and rich.”

Grady tasted a piece of the cheese, and then reached for another. Edward was right: nutty, salty, and rich, but mild at the same time. “That’s really good. I probably don’t have the vocabulary to describe it properly.”

“I’m a fairly new cheesehead myself.” Edward leaned across the counter, rested on his elbows, and took his sweet time watching Grady eat.

Grady popped a grape into his mouth and looked back. Edward was just the sort of man he kept hoping to find. Hoping, trying, being disappointed by. He had a long list now of the things he didn’t want in a friend—he didn’t want a drama queen. Jealous was out. He wanted a man, not a leech, not some pretty boy looking for an easy berth. And smart. He needed smart. He was a lot more lonely for someone to talk to than he was for someone to warm his bed. And he needed someone who would respect his job. Respect the work he did and understand he didn’t take his responsibilities lightly. “So what’s your story? Miss Middlesex at the library thinks you’re in hiding.”

Edward grinned and turned to pick up the toast. “What, from the mob? I’m from San Francisco. We do have the Lavender Mob out there, but I don’t think I’ve pissed off any of the old queens. Here, try some of this one.” He scooped some runny-looking cheese with a white rind onto a piece of toast and handed it over. “I’m more partial to the hard Italian cheeses myself, and the fresh soft ones, but lots of people like French-style cheese.”

It was ripe and tangy with a lingering smoothness. Grady was having a hard time choosing his favorites. Edward handed him a glass of water, and then turned away to put some coffee on. “Can you drink a cup? I usually take a break about this time of the morning to have some cheese and coffee and toast.”

“I can drink a cup,” Grady said. “So, what’s your story?”

Edward glanced at him, smiling. “I wasn’t trying to blow off your question. I just haven’t figured out how to describe what I’m doing out here without sounding like some sort of weirdo cow-milking flake!”

Grady cut off another little piece of the Manchego. “That’s really good. If you’re growing pot out on the back forty, you better tell me now.”

“I guess that wouldn’t look good with the sheriff’s elections, what, three weeks away? No, two weeks.”

“No, it wouldn’t.”

“I’m not growing pot. These cows eat everything that grows, and there isn’t a fence they can’t get through. You’ll never find livestock on a pot farm.”

“That’s a good tip, thanks,” Grady said. “Now stop fussing around and sit down.”

Edward slid a cup of coffee across the table and took a stool. Grady broke off a bunch of the grapes, put them on Edward’s plate, and scooted the cheese wedges across the counter. The coffee was rich and black, and just for a moment Grady took this memory, the smells of coffee and cheese and toast, the man’s beautiful face and elegant fingers, his smile, and he tucked it away in his heart. The way he felt right now, this moment, he might need to remember this one day when he was cold, or lonely, or in a tough spot.

“I felt like I was getting farther and farther all the time from things that were real.” Edward was toying with one of the pieces of toast. “I knew the work I was doing was important, but I was so very far away from seeing any change. I mean, you don’t close your computer down with a hearty sigh and think, there, I just saved somebody’s life. At least, I didn’t. I just wanted to get out of the law library and see some real people. Do some real work.”

Grady thought about this. “So you went from immigrant rights with the ACLU to a farm? Cheesemaking? I understand what you’re saying perfectly. And you can make a mean wheel of cheese.” He was silent for a moment, adding up the things that didn’t make sense. He glanced up, and Edward wasn’t meeting his eyes. There was a faint flush on his cheeks. “So how’s it going?”

Edward looked at him now. “It’s good. It’s work that feels real and strong and needs to be done.”

Grady wondered for a moment if he should just let it go. The man wasn’t talking about cows. But he was sitting here in his uniform eating Edward’s cheese, with a couple of little brown kids in the barn trying to feed the baby cow. “Edward, is there anything you need to tell me? Anything I should know? I promise I’m not the bad guy.”

Edward shook his head, reaching across the table with a grateful smile. “No, Grady. But thank you for asking.”

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Monday, December 6, 2010

Out on the Net excerpt by Rick R. Reed

In Rick R. Reed's Out on the Net, Ray Tolliver has bad timing. Cold feet? It doesn’t get much worse than accepting you’re gay twenty minutes before your wedding to a woman, yet that’s just what happens.

Join Ray as he recounts in his blog the hilarious and touching events that lead him on a journey toward true love. Although he goes looking for love in all the wrong places, will he eventually find another man who wants more than just quick sex? A man who appreciates romance, hearts, and flowers? Or will he find that self-acceptance and bliss do not always go hand-in-hand?

And what of Alice, Ray’s lovely, jilted fiancĂ©e? Will she find it in her heart to forgive the man who left her at the altar?

These questions and more are answered in this unique love story, told in the form of blog entries. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, but you’ll come away from Out on the Net with a renewed appreciation for the power and difficulties of loving not only others, but yourself.

Out on the Net
Amber Allure (2010)
ISBN-13: 978-1-61124-017-7 (Electronic)


Blog Entry #2: An Explanation

Before I get any further into my little tale of woe, it’s only fair that I tell you a bit about myself, aside from the “about me” crap you can read to the right of this blog. First off, I am a gay man. I am thirty years old, now single, and as far as sex with men goes, I am still a virgin (if you discount the groping my next-door neighbor Keith and I did that one summer in the abandoned shack in the woods when we were twelve). I am considered good-looking by some, average by my own estimation. I am five feet ten inches tall and weigh 165 pounds. I have dark brown hair, green eyes, and an olive complexion I inherited from my mom, who is of Sicilian lineage. I work in an industrial pottery in the small Ohio River town where I live, seven a.m. to three p.m. every day. I use a hose to guide liquid clay into molds that eventually become things like vases, urns, and decorative decanters. I have a high school education and two years of community college. I have lived in my small town of 12,000 all of my life.

Why am I writing a blog? Why am I baring my soul on the Internet? To get attention? Because I’m a fool? Because I’m a frustrated writer? Well, all of those things have some validity and they play into my rationale. But the real reason I wanted to put this thing up for public consumption is really pretty selfless—I want to help other people like myself not make the same mistakes I have. So if you’re out there and reading this on your Mac or your PC, I want to help you. If you’re hiding from who you really are, I hope to shed some light on that person buried in the back of the closet. I want you to know that it might be hard to come out, but it’s not impossible.

And the air out here is actually a lot easier to breathe.

I want you to know that being gay is not a choice. I had once thought that. I thought if I dated girls, got married, and did all the things society told me I was supposed to do, I would be okay. Those dreams and fantasies I had about guys would fade away as I became more entrenched in the world everyone seems to consider “normal.” Ever heard the advice: ‘fake it ‘til you make it’? I did. I thought it would work for me.

It didn’t and doesn’t.

So if my little chronicle here of my painful odyssey out of the closet gives you some pause and maybe prevents you from making one wrong turn away from being who you really are, then maybe this blog isn’t such a bad idea.

It’s simple, really. We are all who we are. Nothing more, nothing less. If you’re religious? Hey, I can relate. I was brought up in the Church (and in my family “Church” means only one: Catholic) and know a little bit about guilt and “sinning in one’s heart.” But in spite of all the dogma I absorbed growing up, I still stick with the credo I saw on a bumper sticker a few days ago—“God loves everyone. No exceptions.”

And if God can love you, you can love yourself.
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