Monday, December 30, 2013

The 42nd Street Jerking Off Club excerpt by Mykola Dementiuk

The 42nd Street Jerking Off Club by Mykola Dementiuk is another masterpiece of Times Square in its gay heyday by the two-time Lambda Award winning author!

The 42nd Street Jerking Off Club
Sizzler Editions (2013)

And this being
42nd Street I felt very at home there, experimental sure, no matter what it may have looked like, but my resistance was quickly falling apart.  I frequented many places on that street and I looked upon it as just one more place to discover and participate in.  He smiled but didn't say anything as we passed by the various movie theaters on that street, the Victory, the Sylwan, the Apollo, Times Square Theater and others of that ilk when he stopped before an Army/Navy store entrance alcove.

"It's in here," he said, and going to the windowed front of the store, various items on display in the windows, shirts, pants, boots, a cornucopia of choices.

"This is it," he said again, opening up a glass door at the side of the alcove; three names were painted on the glass.

"Which one is yours?" I asked, as he was opening the door.

"42nd Street Club," he answered, pointing to the name, and he whispered, "But it's really the 42nd Street Jerking-off Club, have to keep the name shortened out of respect for my neighbors, you understand, don't you?"

My eyes flew open, amazed by what I just heard.

"You're kidding, right?"

He chuckled.  "Why should I be kidding, it's the
42nd Street Jerking-off Club.  Every Friday and Saturday we hold our meetings, well, they're not really meetings.  You should attend one and have a look."

We rose up three flights of stairs and he began to open the front door; a lettered sign was painted on the door:
42nd Street Club, nice but not exactly right.  I was already aroused.

We entered, as a large window hung over
42nd Street, an auditorium-like space filled with chairs, books, magazines and newspapers of every kind, mostly the sexual kinky kind, with a movie projector at the rear.

"Would you like something to drink," he asked, "I have some soda but if you would like something a little stronger I have rum, gin or whisky, take your pick?"

"You have any vodka, that's always my drink of choice?"

"Oh heavens, no, I don't.  I'm terribly sorry.  Forgive me.  I must get some vodka, I always forget."

"Of course, I forgive you.  It's not your fault.  I'll have some gin," I shrugged, "it works just as well, booze is booze."

He smiled, as I did, too, both of us blushing and ashamed of something.  He poured out the drinks – he was having gin, too.

"Any particular magazine you would like to look at?  I have all sorts..."
I took the drink he gave me and took a sip.  "Nice, gin always has a pleasant, relaxing aroma, unlike vodka which has a vicious bite to it."

I set the drink down and picked up a magazine.  Girls at Play was the cover, showing girls tossing a beach ball in the sand fully nude.  I picked up another one, Nylon Flirts, half dressed girls in various poses showing off their nylons and skirts as they walked, climbed ladders, did house chores in their nylons or just sitting on the stairway with their skirts high up their legs, their nylons inching up their thighs.  My eyes bulged; it looked just like the library cutie we had just seen on
Fifth Avenue, sure looked like her.  We glanced at each other.

"I love that magazine," he nodded at the one I was holding, "even the title, Nylon Flirts, can get you aroused; it does to me," and by then he was rubbing himself and lowering his zipper.  Hey, he did say Jerking-off Club, didn't he?
I blushed but looked down into the magazine.  God was I hard!  I couldn't help but be aware that he had pulled his pants off and was lowering his Jockey shorts.  Oh no, what was he going to do?

I picked up another magazine from a pile around the office; there were stacks and stacks of piles everywhere!  If you ever talked of
42nd Street as piles of dirty magazines, well, this office was certainly it.  Magazines of every kind were on exhibit, half-dressed women, half-dressed men, made no difference to me, I hungrily looked at each.

I sat down at the other end of the couch from him, still flipping through the pages of one.  "What's that one?" I asked nodding to the one he was looking at.
He showed me his cover, Secretary Sluts.  A pretty woman wearing glasses (who else, an ugly one?) sat at an office desk with her legs braced up, her skirt was also pulled up and revealing her garters straps holding up her black hose, her frilly blouse slightly unbuttoned exhibiting her pink bra holding in a very sizable bosom but she looked very occupied and perplexed over some office chore.  I also un-zippered and pulled my dick out.  Of course, in the ensuing pages as she had shed item by item of her clothes, holding her pose throughout the office, at her desk, before the typewriter or at the water cooler until she was totally shed her clothes and whatever problem she was faced with it, it had now been solved!  Beautiful, the work ethics of a modern woman!

I ejaculated, the force twisting my eyes to clamp shut, my mouth grimacing open as my teeth clenched shut.  Whew, that was a powerful one!

I eased my eyes ajar.  Jamesy sat holding a box of tissues out to me, his own hard dick before him.  I gratefully took a few and wiped the stickiness off; I noticed there were two or three other boxes of tissues about the place, near the sofa, at the corners and one on a chair at the doorway.  So this was a real jerk-off room and he was more than prepared for the cuming.  I again wiped myself.  I liked this club!

"Thanks," I said, ready to pull my pants up.

"Don't mention it," he shrugged, "glad you're satisfied." He flicked a page of his magazine and looked at me.  "I still have a way to go."

"Why's that?"

"I'm older," he nodded, turning a page.  "It takes us older men a littler longer than it does when you're so young.  How old are you, in your 20s?"
I wanted to agree, tell him I was in my 20s but he seemed an honest looking fellow; I told him the truth.

"I'm 21, just turned it a few days ago."

"Wow, very, very nice," he smiled, nodding his head.  "I'm impressed, Happy Birthday cutie!" and he winked at me.  "I've never had a young boy like you in this room.  And your birthday was a few days ago?  That's wonderful; did you have a nice one?"

I shrugged, "The usual, nothing much."
"No party or cake?" he frowned.

I shook my head but snorted.  "Neah, I guess I'm too old for that party stuff.  Anyway, that's for kids."

He shook his head.  "Oh, you're never too old for a piece of cake.  That's what makes birthdays so special.  For one day out of the year, you can be a little kid again.  Don't you think that's wonderful?"

I looked at him and throughout our little conversation, I realized he was still stroking and beating his penis off like it was the natural thing to be doing.  And maybe for him it was but my own penis had again hardened and seemed to be ready for another massage; I slowly stroked it.

"Yeah, I guess," I shrugged, "Birthday's can be great if you have someone to tell you Happy Birthday, but if you don't it's just another shitty day," and I beat off my penis a little faster.

He sulked, looking at me.  "But that's just horrible," he eased himself closer on the couch and masturbated right next to me; I masturbated beside him.
Two men masturbating in
a 42nd Street room, what's wrong with that picture?
"You should never be alone, especially on your birthday."

"Why, you've never been alone on your birthday?"

"Well ... I try not to."

I waved my hand.  "We've all been alone; it's time to get used to it."
He lowered his head and his masturbation grew a little slower.  I felt strangely sorry for him.  I had no right to make him feel bad.

"Hey, you have any other magazines besides these girly ones?  I wanna see something different, you know, like them spanked or tied up, or even boys as girls, you know?" I turned red.

He instantly brightened and got up, going to a pile in the corner.  "Why yes, I have these boy magazines with these transvestite ones, you want to see them?"
I grinned, my penis instantly getting harder and bigger.  The idea of transvestite magazines had me aroused, those were something which I rarely ever saw, even in Times Square, sure there were many in the shops of the area but because of what they were – risqué publications – they were held in cellophane wrappers in the windows or behind the counters as if only for the connoisseurs who already knew what he was getting, a man dressed up to look like a woman.  The notion had me almost instantly stiff.

How many times did I see myself as a woman ... that is a transvestite woman?  Countless times.  Even on some date with a gal going to a hop I was instantly fascinated by her perfume, the clothes she had on, and the femininity that permeated her entire existence.  I dreamed and longed for femaleness, not to be near and around it but to take on her clothes and put them on myself, as if I was that woman.  The few girls I did go out with instantly found my shyness irksome, as if I should be doing something better besides spending time with them.  Of course, I was the other, the queer other, wanting to be alone with my tugging dick while wearing her feminine clothes.

"Come back, baby," he whispered bringing me to, "You're so far away..."
I blinked my eyes; he was right, I had drifted off into the idea of women's clothes, which I had decorated myself with while still being a man.

"Sorry, just lost in my thoughts, you know?" I blinked my eyes.
His hand was stroking my hand as I looked at the new magazines he held out to me.  There was Transvestite Girl Talk, Trannie, TransLiving and others each with an obviously made-up man on the cover taking on the role of being a woman.  That's what I liked about the older magazines they did not steal a woman's look by operation but stood showing themselves off in panties with a cock bulge right before them.  If you wanted one you had to know she was a he right from the start, no pretense at what she wasn't.

His hand had inched lower and circled my penis, slowly stroking and beating, and I did likewise to him.  Two men in a room, jerking each other off; what could be better than that?

With his other hand, he held the magazine as I flicked it page by page while our dicks were beaten off.  Only once had something similar ever occurred, in the flickering movie lit
Bryant Theater when I was eating popcorn, a man sitting beside me and jerking off suddenly pulled my hand onto his hard cock.  With his other hand, he clutched a box of Juju Beans.  I was surprised because what could I do?  I jerked him off as he was jerking me off, too, while holding and looking at our snacks.

But the photographic montage in the magazine, the way the pictures were cut and set up, was of one girly dressed-up man in the bliss of pretending to be a woman.
Jamesy set the magazine down and picked up another one.  I no longer was fascinated by the title it's what was being shown that had me mesmerized, as if I was the one in the photos.  In my delusions, I was dreadfully confused; was I the man or the woman?  I so much wanted to be decorated in the feminine clothes but there was another at her side, a female/man beside her and his hands were all over her.

I beat Jamesy's dick, as he beat mine.  In the magazine, the tranny woman had her legs outspread as he was feeling her up, his hand on her cock just as Jamesy's was on mine and I was on his.  I shuddered and exploded in ejaculation, all twisted up again but the magazine took whatever strange discomfort I was feeling to a sense of lost passion over what I was doing.  And though I had just ejaculated I did not feel I had done something wrong to be ashamed of, as I usually did, but that Jamesy would understand me perfectly, the same thing as was happening to him.  Two men shooting off their loads, ah bliss!

He smiled, I blushed but smiled back at him, still holding and stroking his hard penis.  And soon, very soon, I could feel his explosive tension rising up his cock, a tightening of his body from his hands to his chest and belly as the semen erupted and chaotically torn through him erupting in a splurge of instant satisfaction and peace.

I was happy seeing this in him; a sense of contentment filled me; peace was upon me, we were one.

Monday, December 23, 2013

How to gift an ebook, courtesy of Untreed Reads Publishing

Hello, everyone!
Many people have emailed asking how they might be able to give ebooks as gifts this holiday season. Below is a guide to the various retailers with steps on how to purchase a title for that special someone on your list. (We've also included some helpful ideas for those who deserve coal in their stockings.)

Jay Hartman
Untreed Reads Publishing

Purchasing from Amazon means your recipient either has a Kindle or uses the Kindle app on their computer or device
1. Find the title on Amazon.
2. In the green box on the right of the title's detail page, you'll see a button marked "Give as Gift."
3. Log into your account (if you're not already) and enter the recipient information.
4. You're done! Celebrate with eggnog! A LOT of eggnog. If your in-laws are visiting, skip the eggnog and just drink the alcohol. If the in-laws are particularly bad, spike their eggnog with NyQuil.

Purchases from B&N will NOT work on any Amazon devices or apps, but will work on every other device/computer.
1. Find the title on
2. On the title's detail page, directly to the right of the big orange "Buy Now" button is a small link that says "Buy As Gift." Click the link.
3. Log into your account (if you're not already) and enter the recipient information.
4. You're done! Eat an entire gingerbread house and blame it on the dog.

Purchases from Apple will not work on any Amazon devices or apps, but work perfectly on any Apple device or Apple computer.
1. Find the title in Apple's iBookstore or by searching the iTunes Store.
2. Underneath the cover image on the title's description page will be the price and a little drop-down arrow. Click on the arrow and choose "Gift this Book."
3. Log into your account (if you're not already) and enter the recipient information.
4. You're done! Shake all the presents under the tree to figure out what you're getting/returning.
The recipient gets to choose which format they'd like to receive: PDF, EPUB or Kindle.
1. Find the title on the site.
2. On the title's description page, in the block that lists the price of the book, choose the button with the present images that says "Gift."
3. Follow the checkout process and the instructions for notifying your recipient.
4. You're done! Sneak over to your neighbor's house and gently unscrew one bulb from their strand (but leave it in) and watch the lights go out. When they finally figure out which bulb isn't in all the way, you'll have had hours of enjoyment. That'll teach them for coming over with their nasty comments about your dog pooping in their yard.
Purchases from Kobo will NOT work on any Amazon devices or apps, but will work on every other device/computer.
1. It isn't possible to gift individual titles, however you can buy an electronic gift certificate by going to
2. Fill out the information requested.
3. You're done! For that person who has everything and brags about it, give them an empty box to put it all in.

Thanks, Jay!!!!!
Untreed Reads Publishing

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Ninth Man excerpt by Dorien Grey

In The Ninth Man by Dorien Grey, we are advised to beware of strangers bearing gifts. A serial killer is on the loose, apparently targeting gay men at random for death by a most unusual means, and the homophobic police force seems much more interested in meeting its parking ticket quota than in bothering with a bunch of dead faggots. As the body count mounts, it's up to PI Dick Hardesty to find out not only to find what all the dead men had in common, but who killed them, and why

The Ninth Man, book #1 of the Dick Hardesty Mystery series, first appeared in 2001, and has recently been reissued in print, e-book, and audiobook.

The Ninth Man
  • Zumaya Boundless (June 25, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 1612710867
  • ISBN-13: 978-1612710860


It was hotter than hell, the air conditioner hadn’t worked since the Titanic went down, and I was in no mood for the bleached-blond queen who came swishing across the room toward me after making an entrance that made me wonder whatever happened to Loretta Young. There were times when I almost wished I had a few straight clients, and this was one of those times. Still, I told myself, it isn’t the principle of the thing, it’s the money.
I stood up and extended my hand. As I expected, the proffered appendage was limp and vaguely clammy.
Mr. Rholfing.” I made it a statement, not a question. Clients, I’ve found, expect you to be decisive. Authoritative. Butch. It’s bullshit, but it works.
Yes, Mr. Hardesty.” Jesus, he sounded as nelly as he looked. “I’m so glad you could see me.” I felt his eyes giving my entire body a radar scan.
He was wearing one of those cloying perfumes/colognes that emanate an almost visible fog around the wearer.
Have a chair,” I said, indicating the one that would have been upwind if there’d been any movement of air through the open window, which there wasn’t.
I sat down behind my desk and watched as Rholfing fluttered down, with considerable butt-wiggling, and immediately crossed his legs at the knee. He was dressed all in perma-starched white, with a flaming yellow ascot which missed his hair color by about eight shades. He looked like a butter-pecan ice cream cone with delusions of grandeur. After the talcum had settled, I sat back in my own chair and forced myself to stare directly at my prospective client—mentally picturing a maraschino cherry and some chopped nuts atop the carefully coifed curls.
Rholfing leaned forward, crossing his wrists on his crossed knees, and said simply: “Someone has killed my lover.”
Why me, Lord? Why do I get all the cracked marbles?
We stared at one another in silence for a moment or two until I finally managed to remind myself that that’s what I’m in business for: to solve other people’s mysteries.
Any idea who?” I asked.
How should I know?” he said, exasperated, his manicured hands fluttering up a short distance from his knees, only to settle back, studiedly.
Well, at the risk of sounding a bit like a B movie,” I said, “isn’t this a matter for the police?”
Rholfing stared at me as though I’d just farted in church.
The police all but said that he committed suicide. The police,” he said finally, “eat shit. Somebody killed him.”
The thought flashed through my mind that anyone sharing an evening, let alone a life, with the character in front of me might well be a candidate for suicide. “Exactly what makes you think he was murdered?” I asked, choosing not to get into a long discussion of the merits and flaws of law enforcement.
Bobby was 27 years old, healthy as a horse—hung like one, too—and never had a sick day in his life, unless you count hangovers. Personally, I don’t. And all of a sudden he’s dead in some cheap, tacky hotel room without a mark on him and the police think it was suicide!”
I assume there was an autopsy,” I said. “What did they say about that?”
Oh, they said several things, none of which a lady cares to repeat. The gist of it was that while it was perfectly all right for a fruit like me to come down to the morgue to identify the body, since I was neither a blood relative nor his legal guardian, I had no right whatsoever to any information other than that he’s dead—which any fool could see, with him lying there on that fucking slab!”
And that was it?”
Rholfing took a small white handkerchief from his shoulder bag and dabbed at the corners of his mouth. He then carefully folded it, returned it to the bag, zipped the bag shut, and re-creased the already razor-sharp crease in his trousers with thumb and forefinger before finally re-meeting my gaze.
Not quite,” he said. “Two of the burly cretins took me into a small room and subtly asked me what my experience had been with poisons. Poisons! Me! I was tempted to tell them to drop by some afternoon for tea and I’d see what I could do, but I’d just had the fumigators in. Me! Lucretia Borgia! Can you imagine?”
As a matter of fact, I could.
Now, I may be a fairy,” he continued, smoothing down the back of his hair with one hand, “but I certainly am not stupid! Their refusing to tell me how he died in one breath and asking me about poisons in the next was about as subtle as a lighted match on the Hindenburg.
Bobby was murdered. There’s no question about it. And knowing how the police in this city feel about faggots, the only way anyone is going to find out who killed Bobby is for me to hire you. You come…” (he gave me a smile I’m sure he meant to be disarming, but came across outright lecherous) “…very highly recommended.”
Thanks,” I said, awkwardly. I never did learn how to accept compliments very well—even those without hooks in them. “Have you spoken to Bobby’s parents about this?” I asked.
What parents?” Rholfing asked, haughtily. “He told me he had a grandfather back in Utah somewhere, but he never mentioned parents, if he ever had any.”
So can you tell me anything about Bobby that might help?” I asked.
Well, he was a tramp—that much I know. He’d go home with anything in pants. I told him I was going to get him his own portable glory hole and put it out in the street in front of the apartment. At least that way I’d know where he was all the time.”
Did the police say anything about drugs?”
Rholfing thought a moment, lips pursed, nose wrinkled, brows knit, eyes looking upward at nothing. “I don’t think so. Just poisons.”
Did he use drugs?” I asked.
Rholfing sighed. “No, thank God. That was one of his good points—about his only one, come to think of it: he never got mixed up with drugs. Oh, he’d smoke a joint now and then, but I guess we all do, don’t we?” He gave me a conspiratorial wink—the kind you can see from the top row of the balcony—and that coy/lecherous smile again.
I didn’t say anything for a moment (that’s a bad habit I have; when I don’t have anything to say, I tend not to say anything—bugs the shit out of a lot of people), and Rholfing sat there looking more and more uncomfortable as the seconds dragged on. He pulled a monogrammed handkerchief from God knows where and began waving it gently back and forth beneath his chin. A tiny droplet of perspiration crept from his hairline and meandered its way across his left temple.
Finally, he couldn’t stand it. “Well? Will you take the case?”
Okay,” I said. “But I don’t have much to go on.” God! Where had I heard that line before?
Well, find something,” Rholfing blurted, revealing the rolled-steel interior behind that whipped-cream and lace facade. “You’re the big, strong detective. To the cops he’s just another dead fag, and good riddance—but nobody kills my lover and gets away with it.” He must have anticipated my next comment, because he hastened to add: “Don’t worry about the money. Daddy has five or six acres of downtown Fort Worth, and he’ll give me anything I want just for me to stay the hell away from there.”
I found myself in something of a quandary. I had—clichés aside—very little to go on. Given Rholfing’s account of the circumstances of the death, however accurate or inaccurate they may have been, and despite his denial of his lover’s drug use, the obvious assumption was that it was very likely a routine drug overdose. But that’s why people hire me in the first place; if they knew all the answers, who’d need a detective? The police were notoriously uncooperative in anything that smacked of homosexuality. And I wasn’t exactly in a position to pass up a potential client—particularly one whose Daddy had five or six acres of downtown Fort Worth.
I thought of Tim Jackson, a sometime-trick and pretty good friend of mine who worked in the county coroner’s office. I’d never had the occasion to use his professional services, but maybe now was the time.
Okay, Mr. Rholfing; I’ll check it out,” I said. “But don’t expect miracles.”
I thought he was going to leap across the desk and kiss me. Fortunately, he didn’t.
Now, about my fee…” I began, but he cut me off by digging into his shoulder bag and coming up with a bunch of crisp, new $100 bills.
Will this be enough? For a retinue, or whatever in hell it is you call it?”
Retainer, and it’ll do just fine,” I said, making a conscious effort not to grab it out of his hand.
You will call me, won’t you?” he said, rising out of his chair as graceful as a hot-air balloon and again giving me the radar scan. “Even if you don’t have anything to report, I’d appreciate your keeping in… close…touch.” He used one hand to adjust his shoulder bag while the other made an inspection of the back of his shirt, pulling and tugging at imaginary wrinkles. “Perhaps you could stop by for a drink some evening?” He sounded like Delilah asking Samson to stop by for a haircut. “You do have my name and address, don’t you?”
I assured him I had written them down when he called for the appointment, resisting the temptation to speculate that every tearoom wall in town had his number. I rose and he, eyes glued to my crotch, offered me a dead hand at the end of a limp wrist. I wasn’t sure whether I was supposed to kiss it or shake it, so I took the latter course, and he turned on his little ballerina feet and swished to the door.
Oh, there is one little thing,” I called after him as his hand reached for the knob. He turned quickly, eyes sparkling coquettishly.
About your lover.”
Your lover. Bobby.”
Oh. Yes.” He looked disappointed.
It might help if I knew his last name.”

Monday, December 9, 2013

Dragons of Winter excerpt by P A Brown

In The Dragons of Winter by P A Brown, dragons aren't supposed to fight dragons

Eighteen year old Alecca is set to join Ciburon, the new leader of the House of Xyamaira and become the most powerful rulers of Telen, their world. But amid the ceremonies that will bind the two dragons forever,  Kytam, a rival from a smaller realm seeks to take Alecca for his own, thus gaining control of the world. There is no history of war on their world, but war comes anyway. Kytam must be stopped if there is ever to be peace again among dragons and frails.

The Dragons of Winter
Midnight Frost Books (December, 2013)


Chapter One

The last dregs of Xyamaira’s pale winter sun left its golden rays on the slopes above Kalec’s Keep. When Tlalon, Radynne’s housemate, threw open the heavy curtains to let the early morning sun into Alecca’s room, he rolled away from the bolt of pain in his head and groaned. The sound earned him a sharp slap on his bare ass.

“Go away,” he muttered from under his down pillow. When that was dragged away, he threw himself on his back and glared at his mother’s lover. “You’re back.”

“Yes, I’m back and your mother sent me to tell you it’s time to get up.” Tlalon’s voice grew silky. “Ciburon will be here in less than six hours. You want to be ready for him, don’t you?”

“Six hours? Ban’don! Why didn’t you wake me earlier?” Alecca cursed and bolted upright, grabbing his temples at the pain that shot through his head. Sharp stones pressed against his skull, pushing his eyes out of their sockets. His mouth tasted like the bottom of a dung pit.

“That’s why, Lex,” Tlalon said dryly. “Too much wine last night. You should have listened to your mother and gone to bed at a civilized hour instead of playing dice half the night.”

Alecca grunted and Tlalon laughed.

"Aye, Stone Island wine goes down smooth as honey, but it has spines in it when it gets into your head the next mornin'.”

Alecca knew the man was right, but he didn’t feel like being lectured. Not today. He stood, blinking and swaying on the cold stone floor. Curling his toes away from the chill, he followed Tlalon obediently through the short corridor to the bath house. The bath was already full of others. Some looked as bad as he felt. He caught Daigon’s eye and grimaced. Daigon had matched him drink for drink last night around the dying fire, after everyone else had grown a brain and gone to bed. This morning they were both paying for that indulgence. Alecca would have liked nothing better than to crawl back into bed, even as he knew that refuge was no longer his. After today, he would be leaving his childhood home for good. Either at Ciburon’s side as his mate or in servitude as a neutered geld or guard.

Or dead.


An hour later, having sweated most of the alcohol out of his blood and feeling nearly alive,

Alecca sat down with his mother and Tlalon for breakfast. Bral had just served the first course when there was a commotion in the courtyard outside. Everyone at the table paused.

Alecca knew the moment his father arrived. There was a change in the atmosphere of the hall. His mother looked up from her breakfast, her unlined face lighting up with pleasure, even as an ox bellowed in terror. Probably some peddler bringing his wares up from New Landon in the valley not used to seeing dragons so close. At a sign from Tlalon, Bral, the house geld, left the room.

The bellowing quieted. Moments later, boot-steps rang on the flag stone steps leading into the vestibule outside the dining hall. The door burst open and Bral hurried in.

“Lord Kalec sends his greetings. He wishes to meet with the boy.”

Radynne and Tlalon traded glances. She nodded and Bral bowed and left. Ticks later she returned, followed by Alecca’s father.

Kalec strode into the room, looking exactly as he had the last time Alecca had seen him nine years ago. Before that time his father had been a steady, loving presence in his life. Then the day he had known was coming, but denied, had arrived. His mother had taken him aside and told him it was time for his father to go.He remembered throwing a tantrum, at least that’s what he had thought it was at the time. Only later did he realize it had been his first shift. He’d known that was coming, too, but hadn’t realized his body’s changes meant it had already begun. In his rage, he lashed out at his mother.

“I don’t want him to go. Tell him he has to stay. I’ll be good. I promise.”

She had been patient at first, trying to explain why Kalec couldn’t stay, the terrible things that would happen if he did.

Alecca wouldn’t have any of it. Finally his mother had grown weary of his tears. She had slapped him, the first time anyone had ever touched him with pain. Rage filled him. Red film covered his eyes and he tasted blood. It was only later that he realized he had bitten his tongue. Radynne had shown no fear, though he raged and fumed for nearly ten minutes. All the time it was like he stood outside himself, watching his fury spiral out of control.

Finally his mother had touched his face and her cool fingers jerked him back to sanity.

“Now you understand,” was all she said.

His tutor, Jandi, had explained it better. “You're coming into your manhood, Lex, and until you learn to control your urges, you are a threat to any male who is around you,” she said. “You would have been no match for Kalec. He would kill you and regret it the rest of his life.”

He didn’t exactly cool down, but Jandi’s words did sober him. He’d known this exile from his father would come soon after he reached puberty. A male dragon couldn’t be around other males who could compete in their rut. Alecca knew that, but he had been so close to solid, gentle Kalec that part of him had hoped their relationship would survive his first shifting. When it didn’t and his feral nature erupted in blind rage, he knew his mother had been right.

Now his father was back. Another sign he was an adult, or so everyone told him.

He stood and approached the broad-shouldered, dark-haired man he remembered so well, despite the years between them. When Kalec smiled, all those years fell away. Alecca was aware of the internal conflict that filled him at the sight of his father’s gold, slit-eyed gaze. Part of him wanted to fling himself into Kalec’s arms, but another part wanted to take his blade and slice the older man's belly open, watching his guts spill on the cold marble floor. He did neither. Instead, signaling his obeisance to his liege, he stiffly bowed his head. He exposed his neck, bare of the brands he would wear later. Kalec dipped his head in return, the
two spiraling dragon brands visible on either side of his neck. Alecca remembered, as a child, tracing their rough outline with chubby fingers. How magical they had seemed.

“Alecca e Kalec, you've grown tall.”

Alecca puffed with pride. “I am at your service, Lord.”

Kalec glanced over at Radynne. Alecca saw her nod; his heart quickened.

“Ciburon sent me a message this morning. He’s been delayed. He won’t arrive until tomorrow’s sunset. Is that acceptable to you?”

Alecca stared at his father. He was being asked? That was novel. All his life he had been told what to do. He was inkesh, a student of the dragon ways. His father was now letting him know he was a man, ready to fulfill the role he had been born to. To become Ciburon’s mate and ascend with him to the throne of Xyamaira as the new Xyama, replacing his father and his life mate, Llandra. He was dragoncross, the offspring of a dragon and a female frail mating and this was his destiny.

He stumbled over his reply, “Yes, sir. I expected him today.”

“Yes, well, Ciburon moves in his own way. You’ll learn that soon enough.”

Was it his imagination or was his father smiling at him? Then he realized his mother was too,and even Tlalon wore a look of paternal amusement. Not surprising. Tlalon had been the first male Alecca could be around without wanting to kill him since he had no dragon blood in him.He truly had been a substitute father for a boy who had felt so abandoned at a difficult time in his life.

Elation filled him. He pulled himself to his full height, noting with surprise he was looking down at Kalec by a good inch. The pupils of Kalec’s eyes widened, almost turning into ovals. He was startled.

Abruptly he held out his arm. Alecca clasped it and felt his father’s rough fingers close over his bicep. His flesh was warm and scarred, some new since Alecca had last seen him.

“I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise, but you've grown.”

Alecca squeezed Kalec’s arm, then released it. “I'm not done yet.”

“No, I guess you're not.” Again Kalec and Radynne shared a look. “He’s a fine one. I chose well.”

“He’ll be a strong leader,” his mother agreed, looking smug.

Kalec grew serious. His eyes had gone back to narrow slits, barely visible in the golden iris.

“He’d better be. Kytam is back.”

Monday, December 2, 2013

Straightening Up short story by Jeffrey Ricker

For most people the holidays mean family, togetherness, and focusing on the things that matter most in life. For Greg in Straightening Up, a short story by Jeffrey Ricker, it means taking the artwork off the walls, putting away photographs, and sleeping single, because this Christmas his partner Michael's mother is coming to visit. Things would be easier if Michael would finally come out to her, but until he gets the guts to do that, it's up to Greg to do some straightening up. A holiday short story.

Straightening Up
Untreed Reads Publishing (2012)

“No, it’s okay, really. There’s plenty of room here. So why isn’t Dad coming…? Oh, well, if he
has to, he has to. What’s your flight number?”

Greg peered over the top of the newspaper. Michael clutched the phone between his ear and
shoulder while he wrote something on a notepad; all the while, he made a point of avoiding
eye contact. He had stopped writing now and was idly drawing circles. Michael rolled his eyes.

“Okay, I’ll be there. No, I won’t forget... Okay... Me too, Mom. Bye.”

Greg folded the newspaper and tossed it onto the coffee table. Michael continued to stare at
the pad, tapped it with the pen.

“When does she get here?” Greg asked.

“This Tuesday.”

“Tuesday? She could have given us a little notice.”

Michael looked up, finally. “You agreed you wouldn’t make a big deal about this.”

“I didn’t think I was going to have to do this every time she comes to visit. Aren’t you ever
going to tell her that we’re friends in that special way?”

“Very funny.”

“It didn’t kill your dad.” Michael’s father had guessed, actually, and it amazed Greg that
Michael’s mother hadn’t.

“No, but she still expects grandchildren—try explaining that one to her.”

“Lovely.” Greg grabbed his coffee cup and headed to the kitchen.

It was snowing again. Christmas lights glowed in some of the windows across the alley. Greg
was staring at them when Michael came up behind him and put his arms around Greg’s
waist. He rested his chin on Greg’s shoulder.

“How come your dad’s not coming with her?” Greg asked.

“He’s got a meeting in New York on the 27th. He’s spending Christmas with my Uncle Ed in

“And we get your mom,” Greg muttered, pouring himself another cup.

“I thought you liked my mother.”

“I do like your mother.” She was sweet, but not so much that it was embarrassing. She tried
to make Greg call her “Mom,” though he was only comfortable calling her Mrs. R. “I don’t 
like not being able to lay a hand on her little boy for—how long is she going to be here?”

“Until the 30th.”

“I might explode.” Greg turned from the counter, crossed his arms, and glared at a point on
Michael’s forehead. Michael kissed him.

“I’m not that easily bribed.”

Michael shrugged and reached for the zipper of Greg’s jeans.

“Jeez! Don’t be so crass.” Greg picked up his cup, stepped around Michael, and retreated to
the living room.

“Do you have to make this so difficult?” Michael flopped onto the sofa next to Greg, who
was pretending to be interested in the business section of the Post.

“You know what would make things easier? If you told her the truth.”

“You mean like it made things easier with your parents?”

Greg narrowed his eyes. “That was low.” Greg’s parents had not reacted as well as he’d
hoped. They were still talking to him, but he could almost hear them cringe over the phone
whenever he mentioned Michael’s name. They’d never met him and probably never would; it
was one of many reasons Greg was glad they lived several hundred miles away.

“I’m sorry.” Michael took his hand. “Just do this for me, okay?”

Greg kept his gaze fixed on the Dow Jones Industrial Average for all of three seconds. “You
sleep on the couch this time. I’ll take the guest bedroom. It’s supposed to be mine, anyway.”
Michael kissed him roughly on the side of the head. “Bless you, light of my life. I promise
I’ll make it up to you.”

“There just better be something really good for me under the Christmas tree.”


The first things Michael put away were photographs. Not all of them, just the ones they were
in together—the vacation they took camping in Washington (try and explain why there was
only one sleeping bag clearly visible in the tent), the Halloween party (Michael was Caesar, 
Greg was Mark Antony—though he’d threatened to go as Cleopatra), and a couple more that
Michael thought might border on the obscene.

Next was artwork. Down came Herb Ritts and Keith Haring, up went Ansel Adams—not to
say Greg didn’t like Ansel, but it was the principle.

The bookshelves also got a thorough going over. Out went the books by Edmund White,
Armistead Maupin—even, among others, Howards End by E.M. Forster. Greg pointed out 
the only suggestive thing about the book was its title, and Maurice, which was far more 
blatant, was still on the shelf. Michael took that too.

Gina, Greg’s best friend from college, called this bizarre ritual “straightening up.” If it was
possible, she looked on it with even less humor than Greg.

“I don’t believe you,” she told Michael over coffee after dinner on Monday. “Your mother
comes in for a week and suddenly you’re this neurotic house cleaner. Are you going to toss 
Greg in a box too while you’re at it?”

“I get put in the closet,” Greg said. He thought it was clever, but Michael gripped his coffee
cup tighter, and his eyebrows dipped down toward his nose.

“Besides,” she went on, “how can you possibly think your mother doesn’t know already? 
For crying out loud, it’s not like either of you is all that subtle.”

“Oh, thank you very much,” Greg said in feigned indignation. Neither Michael nor Gina 
seemed to notice.

“That’s not fair,” Michael said. “It’s not like I enjoy doing this.”

“I’ll tell you who it’s not fair to.” She lumped spoonful after spoonful of sugar into her
coffee. “Greg shouldn’t have to put up with this.”

“Gina—” Greg began, but Michael cut him off.

“I think that’s between him and me, actually,” he said. “I’m not forcing him to do anything.”

That stopped Greg in mid-gulp. “Excuse me?”

Michael looked at him with surprise. “I’m not making you do this.”

“Really? What would you have done if I’d said no?”

Michael looked baffled, as if that thought hadn’t occurred to him before. For a while, the
three of them drank coffee in silence.


Michael went alone to pick up his mother. They arrived home around 8:15 in the evening.
Mrs. R breezed in, followed by Michael, who wore the expression of someone waiting for a
grenade to explode. She shook off the light dusting of snow that clung to the shoulders of 
her green wool coat, and came over to give Greg a hug and a peck on the cheek. Her lips
were frosty; the cold sharpened the scent of rose in her perfume. She smiled.

“Have you gotten taller?” she asked. Greg helped her out of her coat.

“I don’t think so. I’ve been the same height since I was eighteen.”

“Well, if you’re lucky, everything else will stay the same as when you were eighteen.” She
set one of her suitcases on the ottoman in front of the corner chair. Sitting down, she undid
the latches and flipped the lid open. “Has my son been behaving himself as a decent 

A decent roommate, and remarkably limber, Greg thought, but resisted the temptation to
say it. “When he’s not getting on my case about leaving dirty dishes in the sink.”

She cocked an eyebrow in Michael’s direction as he came in with three cups of coffee. “He’s
a fine one to talk. He used to drink straight from the milk carton when he was a kid.”

“What do you mean ‘used to’?”

She peered over her glasses at her son. “I can see I’m going to have to have a word with him.
Ah, here we go.” She withdrew several small wrapped parcels from the suitcase. “Time for

She tossed one of the boxes to Greg and one to Michael. Greg’s was a fountain pen with a
black marble casing and a gold nib.

“That’s because you probably don’t write to your parents often enough, if you’re anything
like Michael,” she said. As Greg thanked her, Michael opened his—a green marble ballpoint

“That’s because I know you don’t write often enough,” she said.

Matching presents, Greg thought. How quaint. Either she knew or he’d been unofficially


While Mrs. R helped Michael make up the living room sofa, Greg washed out coffee cups in
the kitchen. He listened above the running water to their conversation, his ears perking
when she said his name.

“I hope it’s not because I’m here,” she said.

“I don’t think so.” The snap of a sheet punctuated his sentence. “I think he was counting on
being with his family this Christmas. He just couldn’t get time off from work.”

“Well, hopefully we can make it up to him.” There was a pause. “I thought you said they
were out of the country.”

“Well, they are. They offered to buy him a ticket to London as a Christmas present, but he
couldn’t get off work for long enough to really do it right, you know? So, he decided just to 
stay here.”

What a save, Greg thought. Michael was getting far too good at covering up one lie with

“That’s too bad,” Michael’s mom said. “I’d love to go to London. I still remember the first
time I went. It was before I met your dad—”

“I know, Mom,” Michael said, his tone indicating just how many times he’d heard that story.

“Hey, humor your old mother,” she said. “You sure you’ll be all right out here? We could
always switch. Your legs are definitely going to hang over the edge.”

“Mom,” he said, “I’ll be fine. And you’re not old.”

Greg turned off the tap and, wiping his hands on a towel, walked into the living room. “He’s
used to the sofa. Half the time I come home and he’s asleep on it with the TV still going.”

“Just like his father.” She sat down and fluffed a pillow. “You’re turning in too?”

“Yeah, I’ve got to go to work in the morning. Some of us couldn’t get the whole week off
before Christmas. It’s good to see you, Mrs. R.”

“You too, dear.” Greg leaned down and she kissed his cheek.

Greg looked at Michael as he straightened up. Michael’s expression was unreadable; Greg
tried not to make an accusation out of his own.

“‘Night,” Greg said, padded off to the guest bedroom and shut the door.


For two hours, Greg alternated between staring at the clock and staring at the ceiling. The
bed in the guest room was small and bulged in the middle. It was like balancing on the back 
of a camel. From the other bedroom, he could hear Michael’s mother breathing. She didn’t 
snore exactly—she was far too nice for that, and the sound she made was far more delicate.
She seemed to sigh dreamily with each breath that drifted through the half-open door. He got
up and went out to the living room.

Michael sounded like someone playing bagpipes with their feet—Greg hadn’t noticed the
snoring the first week they’d spent together. Neither of them slept much then. When they 
finally moved in together, the first night Greg was jolted awake—it sounded like a 
transmission grinding gears in Michael’s throat. His doctor suggested a different pillow, 
which actually did the trick.

Sprawled across the sofa, though, Michael slipped back into it easily. It was amazing the
neighbors didn’t complain. Greg got a glass of milk and sat on the floor, leaned against the
sofa, and watched music videos with the sound turned off.

After a while Greg noticed the snoring had stopped and then felt Michael’s fingers crawl
through his hair. “Can’t sleep?” he asked groggily.

“Not with you out here sawing down the Redwood National Forest,” Greg replied. He knew
he sounded testy, but he was tired and figured he was entitled.

“Sorry.” Michael lowered his voice to a whisper, as if suddenly realizing they were not alone
in the apartment. From the bedroom his mother sighed languidly, oblivious. “That bed really
sucks, huh?”

Greg took a gulp of milk and passed Michael the glass. “Not as much as this couch.”

He drained the glass and set it on the coffee table. “Maybe it’s time to get some new

“Time for something,” Greg said, and closed his eyes. He felt foolish sitting there. He started
to get up. “I should try to get to sleep.”

Michael put his hand on Greg’s shoulder. “What’s your hurry?”

“I have to go to work tomorrow.”

“That’s hours from now.” Greg felt Michael’s fingers brush across his chest. When the ear
nibbling started, Greg lifted Michael’s arm away and got up.

“Your mom is in the other room.”


“What if she wakes up?”

Michael propped himself up on his elbows and stared at Greg. “Why are you being so

“If you don’t know the answer to that question already, why don’t you sleep on it and see if
you can figure it out?” Greg tried to whisper, but it came out more like a hiss. “Good night.”
Greg crawled back under the covers and half-hoped Michael would follow him. He was
ready to forgive him if Michael would make even a small step. The blue-gray flicker of the TV
from under the door went out, and a few moments later the buzz saw of Michael’s snoring 
began. For the next hour until he fell asleep, Greg perched on the camel’s back, listening to 
Michael snoring on one side and Mrs. R sighing on the other.


Gina met Greg for lunch the next day. Greg waited for her, a cup of coffee on his left, a
grilled veggie on rye at his right, and an unopened pack of Marlboro Lights in front of him.

She sat across from him. “Am I in time to save you from yourself?”

“I think I may be a lost cause,” he said, and started tapping the pack. She snatched it and
dropped it into her purse.

“His mom’s that bad?”

“His mom’s wonderful. At this point, I’m starting to like her more than I like him.”

“Ouch.” She slid the pack back to Greg’s side of the table. The waitress brought her
sandwich, and as she dug in, Greg unwrapped the cigarettes and patted one from the pack.
“You do realize you can’t smoke indoors anymore, right?” she asked through a mouthful of

He sneered at her but put the cigarette away. “Bite me.”

“How tempting. Tell me, if you’re this bad after the first day, how the hell are you going to
last a whole week?”

“I have no idea, but if you hear about a Christmas Day double homicide, you’ll know I

“Then I’d better give you this.” She tossed him a keychain. “If you want to come over and
I’m not there, just let yourself in. But remember, smoke anywhere except the balcony and I’ll
be sticking you on top of the tree.”


Greg came home to find Mrs. R. setting the table. She looked up and smiled. “Just in time.
Dinner’s almost ready.”

The aroma from the kitchen smelled warm and hearty. “Thanks, Mrs. R. You didn’t have to

She dismissed the comment with a wave of her hand. “Michael’s done a lot of the work. He’s
learned to be pretty handy in the kitchen, I see.”

“You have no idea. So, what’s for dinner?”

“Beef tenderloin, Michael’s favorite. I’ve also made a salad and asparagus, and I brought a
peach pie from home. I won’t tell you how much trouble TSA gave me about that. Hope
you’re hungry.”

“Yeah…. I guess Michael didn’t tell you I’m a vegetarian?”

She paused with a fork in hand; her shoulders sagged. “No, he didn’t. I would have made
something different if he had.”

“It’s okay.”

“The hell it is.” Greg couldn’t remember if he’d ever heard Michael’s mother cuss before.
“Were you a vegetarian the last time I was here? I could swear we went out for seafood.”

“Don’t worry about it, Mrs. R.” Greg kept his head down and looked at the place settings. He
couldn’t believe he felt like crying over beef tenderloin.

She shook her head. “I feel like an idiot. Michael took me to the store, for Pete’s sake. He
could have said something.”

“Well, maybe he was looking forward to some meat.”

For a moment, Mrs. R locked eyes with Greg, then raised an eyebrow, her mouth slowly
curling into a smirk before her expression hardened again.

“That’s no excuse.” Michael came in with a stack of cloth napkins and placemats from the
linen closet, and she turned to glare at him over her glasses. “Michael, why didn’t you tell me
Greg was a vegetarian?”

“Huh?” Michael had a way of feigning ignorance when he couldn’t bluff his way out of
something. “I guess I forgot.”

“Well, you’re just going to have to wait for dinner, kiddo,” his mother said. “I’m going to put
on some pasta.”

Before Michael could protest, his mother swept into the kitchen, leaving Michael and Greg
standing on opposite ends of the table.

“You can’t bear to tell her the least thing about me, can you?” Greg asked.

“What does that mean?”

Greg didn’t answer. Instead, he turned and walked away from the table, again wishing
Michael would follow him. To his surprise, Michael appeared in the doorway to the guest
bedroom as Greg pulled a bag from the top shelf of the closet.

“What are you doing?” Michael asked, his voice low. He glanced toward the open door.

Greg tossed the bag onto the bed and began pulling t-shirts and underwear from the dresser.

“What does it look like, genius?” He didn’t bother to lower his voice.

“She’s only going to be here until the 30th.”

“Yeah. And that makes one of us.”

Michael stepped back a little. “Don’t you think you’re overreacting? It’s only a couple more

“What about next Christmas? And the one after that?”

“Can’t we deal with this later? Please?”

“Later,” he said. “When does ‘later’get here, exactly?”

Michael didn’t answer. He followed Greg into the bathroom, where Greg cleared off his shelf
in the medicine cabinet—even after they’d moved in together, they still kept separate tubes 
of toothpaste, shaving cream, razors. When Greg turned around, Michael was blocking the

“You’d better get back to the table and start thinking up another excuse,” Greg said, and
eased past him, but not before Michael laid a hand on his forearm.

“Greg, please.”

Finally, ages too late, Michael realized he wasn’t bluffing. Greg shook his head and made for
the front door.

“Greg?” Michael’s mother stood in the kitchen doorway, potholders still on her hands.
“Where are you going at this time of night?”

He half-sighed, half-groaned. This was almost as bad as walking out on his own mother. He
leaned over and kissed her on the cheek.

“Merry Christmas, Mrs. R.”

“Michael?” Mrs. R turned toward the dining room. Michael stood in the doorway looking

“Mom, don’t butt in,” he said.

“Hey, you don’t talk to me like that.” She looked back at Greg. “Did you two have a fight?”

“It’s not like that—” her son began.

“Oh, don’t give me this crap.” She shucked the potholders and pointed one at Michael’s 
nose. “Your mother’s not stupid, you know.”

Michael paled. “Mom—”

“I have to go, Mrs. R,” Greg finally said. He was halfway out the door.

“Wait.” Michael’s mother set her potholders on the hall table and took a scarf from the coat
tree. She had to stand on her toes to get it around his neck. When she was done she placed 
her hand on the side of his face and gave him a look of uncomprehending concern he figured
must be taught in all the motherhood manuals. Pulling the door shut, he heard her say, 
“Michael, we need to talk.”


Gina set an ashtray and a full glass in front of Greg. He held it up to the light, wondering
what it actually was.

“It’s Wild Turkey, not a science project,” she said. “Drink.”

He tossed it down and nearly choked on the burn. She patted his back until his spluttering
subsided. His choking turned to laughter, but once he got some air, he started to cry. He 
managed to pull himself together before Gina could pull him into an embrace.

“Sorry, I’m OK,” he said, then repeated it, to see if it was true. He reached for his pack and,
figuring the ban on smoking had been temporarily rescinded, lit up. “I still can’t believe I did it.”

“Me neither.”

He narrowed his eyes. “Try not to sound so overjoyed. I know you never liked him.”

“I wasn’t exactly keeping it a secret, was I?” She stroked his back in a lazy circle as if he
were a colicky child. Softly, she asked, “Is it for good?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe after his mother’s gone he’ll be able to see what I’m talking
about, but I’m not going to pretend for his benefit anymore.” Greg looked up and noticed her
smirk. “What?”

“I just can’t imagine you pretending to be straight convincingly. Unless she’s got really bad

“Hey, I can act. I took drama in high school.”

“Every day of your life is drama class, honey.”

He stubbed out his cigarette. “You’re really mean, you know that?”

“Years of practice.” She picked up his glass. “Want another?”

“Please. I haven’t suffered enough tonight.”

As she got up, the doorbell rang. She ignored it and cruised into the kitchen.

“I’ll let you answer that,” she said. “We probably know who’s coming to beg for

“He’ll have to do more than beg this time,” he said.

Even though he knew Gina would be right, Greg opened the door, stared at Michael in his
snow boots and overcoat, and thought, I’m not going to cry again.

“Can I come in?”

Greg stepped to the side. “What are you doing here? And how did you get here?” They had
only one car between them, and Greg had taken it. The title was in his name anyway, so he
figured he was, well, entitled.

“I took a cab,” Michael said, just as Gina emerged from the kitchen with Greg’s refilled
glass. She and Michael looked at each other in silence.

“Sorry to barge in,” Michael said.

Gina shrugged. Michael glanced at the glass in her hand. She seemed to think about it a
moment, then handed it to him before heading back into the kitchen.

Greg was damned if he’d be the first to talk. They sat on opposite sides of the coffee table,
Michael turning his glass slowly in his hands. Gina emerged from the kitchen with another 
glass of Wild Turkey and the bottle. She placed them on the coffee table without saying a 
word and headed to her bedroom.

The silence got huge. Greg could have sworn he heard the lights twinkling on Gina’s
Christmas tree. Just when he thought he’d crack and start babbling, Michael blurted out, 
“I’m sorry.”

Greg belted the rest of his drink. Only a little burn this time. He set the glass down and
refilled it. “Let me guess. Your dad spilled the beans, didn’t he?”

Michael managed a laugh and nodded. “She said she was amazed he thought he could keep
secret from her. Now that I think about it, she always knew what we were getting her for
her birthday, Christmas, Mother’s Day. There was no surprising her. She knew everything.”

“Clearly.” Greg poured himself another measure, considered slugging it back too, but instead
took a sip. “So when did your dad tell her?”

“The week after we moved in together. He caved faster than you can say cohabitation.” He
laughed. “Actually, she didn’t give him much choice. She just asked him point-blank how 
long we’d been seeing each other. She was worried we were jumping in too soon.”

“What tipped her off?”

Michael smirked. “You won’t believe this.”

“What? Come on.”

“Our towels. She figured two ‘friends’”—he made air quotes with his fingers—“moving in
together would have a mishmash of stuff, but ours all matched.”

It wasn’t that funny, but given the mood he was in, Greg started laughing a little, then tried to
take a drink and nearly ended up spewing it over the coffee table. Soon they were both 
laughing, more from relief than anything else. Once they pulled themselves together, 
Michael asked, “Are you going to come home?”

Greg got up and walked over to the window. It was dark out. Gina lived in an old building,
and through the frost on the old, warped panes, the streetlights were fuzzy haloes. He let his
focus on them fade and stared out at nothing, and wondered what had changed.

“So, I told her everything,” Michael said, as if reading Greg’s mind. “Granted, there wasn’t
much she didn’t already know after Dad opened his big mouth.” He paused to take a gulp
from his glass—he didn’t even grimace—and kept going. “And once I was done, I told her
if she didn’t like it, she could get on a plane tomorrow and go home. And then—”

“And then you traipsed through the snow to come here,” Greg finished. “Two feet of snow,
in fact. And—” he glanced out the window again “—getting deeper. A sane person would 
have picked up the phone.”

Michael smiled. “I figured my argument would be more persuasive in person.”

“And what is your argument, exactly?”

Michael stood and flapped his arms once, helplessly. “I don’t know. The cabbie wouldn’t
drive into the neighborhood, so I had to walk five blocks through two feet of snow just to 
come and admit how much I’ve screwed up. Now I’m cold, and I’m wet, and I’m tired, 
and I want you to come home with me. Please.”

Greg glanced back at the window, at the frost, the snow, the glowing lights. It was all so
quiet. He could hear Michael breathing, and the ice in his own glass rattling. “It’s a real 
mess out there. I don’t think either of us should be going out in it, not this late. Why don’t 
we wait until morning and see if they’ve cleared the streets by then? Think your mom can 
handle a night alone in the apartment?”

Michael sighed—maybe from relief, maybe from resignation or exhaustion, Greg wasn’t

“I’ll give her a call.”

While Michael took his phone into the kitchen, Greg knelt in front of the fireplace and tossed
in another log. Michael’s voice was a murmur in the other room. Greg sat on the sofa and 
stared into the flames for a while. He closed his eyes. He didn’t think he’d drifted for that 
long when he felt Michael’s hand on his shoulder.

“Mom thinks it’s a good idea to stay off the road too.” He sat on the floor and leaned back
against the sofa. “She’s glad you’re coming home.”

Greg gestured toward the loveseat. “Why don’t you lie down over there? You’ll be more

Michael shook his head, still staring at the fire. “I’m fine here.”

Neither of them said anything after that. Greg draped one hand over Michael’s shoulder;
Michael covered it with his own and they watched the fire. Greg wasn’t sure which of them
nodded off first; Michael didn’t snore, or if he did, Greg didn’t notice

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