Monday, July 28, 2014
First Exposure by Alan Chin is loosely based on his own story of becoming the target of homophobia while serving in the US Navy, when he took a second (off duty) job delivering flowers at a gay-owned florist.
Straight, married Petty Officer Second Class Skyler Thompson battles homophobia from his Navy buddies, the military, and his wife when he takes a job creating flower arrangements at a gay-owned florist. But rather than yield to pressure and quit, he refuses to give up the joy of creating beautiful arrangements, battling homophobia for artistic expression. His dream is to leave the navy and open his own florist shop.
Ezra Dumphy—his shipmates all call him Dumpy because of his obesity—is a gay sailor who likes to dress in drag. He is shunned by his shipmates, tragically lonely, and uses drugs to cope with his solitude. What he wants more than anything is someone to share his life with.
Can these two men, opposites in every way, help each other achieve their dreams?
The majority of the ship’s three-thousand-man crew and twenty-five-hundred-man air wing made their way to the flight deck to hear the president’s speech. Skylar, however, hustled to the squadron’s enlisted lounge where he found a dozen of his shipmates sipping beers and watching Bush’s speech on the television attached to the bulkhead. The screen showed Bush on a podium below the “Mission Accomplished” banner. “In the Battle of Iraq,” the president said, “the United States and our allies have prevailed.”
The crew on deck cheered; so did the men in the lounge, raising their beers in a salute. A bottle of whiskey passed from man to man, and from the little fluid left in the bottle, Skylar realized his shipmates were already halfway to shitfaced.
As Skylar sauntered across the compartment, he nearly choked on the aroma of warm beer, cigarette smoke, and human sweat. He snatched a beer and cranked off the cap, then perched himself on a chair in a corner where he couldn’t see the damned monitor. He removed a sketchpad and charcoal pencil he always kept beneath his shirt, and began sketching the image of the Viking jet. He softened the lines with his fingers, shading where needed. Skylar had a feel for drawing. He considered himself an artist, albeit an untrained one. While aboard, it was the only thing that gave him true pleasure.
“Why fly him here anyway?” Skylar asked no one in particular. “We’re thirty miles from San Diego, for christsakes.”
Shushes echoed from the men.
Dunphy wandered into the room holding a yellow writing tablet and ballpoint pen. He studied the remaining empty seats with a troubled scowl, as if trying to find the safest spot available. Skylar’s and Dunphy’s eyes met from across the room, and Dunphy rambled toward him and squeezed his bulk into the next seat over. Without a word, he bent his head over his tablet and began writing a letter. A minute later, he glanced up at Skylar, as if noticing him for the first time, and offered him a relieved grin.
Skylar returned the gesture. He scanned the room again. Smitty played bridge at the next table with Stokes, Kelso, and Nash. Hudson perched himself on a table in the center of the group of spellbound crewmen, chewing on a half-burned cigar and his eyes glued to the tube.
Skylar and Dunphy worked side by side, Skylar sketching and Dunphy writing. The first time Dunphy’s arm brushed Skylar’s, he hardly noticed. The second nudge was longer, almost sensual. It caught Skylar’s attention. He glanced down, noticing Dunphy’s hands for the first time, shapely and hairless, showing a particular beauty. Skylar moved his arm, giving Dunphy an inch more room, and began to draw those fingers wrapped around the pen.
The third brush convinced him it was deliberate. He pulled his arm well away and turned to stare into those liquid, unreadable eyes.
Before Skylar could begin to fathom Dunphy’s intentions, the hatch slammed open and Petty Officer Third Class Travis Bolton, the Brutus of the navy, charged into the room. His crew cut was the color of scorched grain; skin shaded a creamed coffee hue. Bruises adorned his face, and one of his muscular arms was bandaged and supported by a sling. Travis was two years older than Skylar, but when they hung together, Skylar felt like Travis was his little brother—someone who needed looking after.
Their shipmates had nicknamed them, the Evil Twins. They didn’t look alike, but Travis loved practical jokes, regardless of who they offended, and Skylar always backed him up when things went wrong, which was often. This bad boy role gave them both a certain amount of capital in this tough, unforgiving environment. It also awarded them a lot of solitude.
“It’s a fuckin’ zoo on deck,” Travis drawled in his baritone, Baton Rouge accent. He shook his head like a wet schnauzer. His black eyes blazed with restless energy.
“Look who they let out of the brig,” Smitty bellowed. “The mouth from the South walks among us once again. They even let him keep a stripe.”
“Christ, have you seen what’s going on up there?” Travis said, turning his back on Smitty. “There’s more press on deck than fags at a West Hollywood Gucci sale.”
“You’d be the one to know,” Hudson said. He let out a bark of laughter as he and Smitty did a high five.
Travis snatched a bottle of Jack Daniel’s from the crate and shoved his way toward Skylar. He cracked open the bottle, took a hot swallow, and wiped his mouth on his sleeve.
Skylar sipped his beer while he watched Travis stampede through the room with the lithe delicacy of a heavyweight prizefighter. Travis wore one of his hand-tailored uniforms that he had bought in Honolulu and upon which the three stripes of a petty officer first class had been hand-embroidered. Skylar inspected the fresh pale lines on his friend’s sleeves where two other stripes had accompanied the one there now. His eyes shifted to Travis’s damaged face. “Owww, Trav. Fightin’ with your cellmate to see who bends over?” he said, and chuckled. “Hope you boys used protection.”
“Don’t be jealous, Skye; he doesn’t have your boyfriend’s puppy dog eyes and big, cushy ass.” He nodded his head at Dunphy.
They smiled, clinked their bottles, and both took another swallow. This competitive banter became a delicate situation for Skylar, and he felt he had to restrain himself. Even though Travis was his buddy, it seemed their conversations always became delicate situations, both of them flirting with that invisible no man’s land between amusing and affronting. Delicate situations irritated Skylar. Who was it that said that Hell is being locked in a room with your best friend, forever? He thought of that moment of freedom he had experienced on deck, his arms spread and his face into the wind, just him and the horizon, and he wanted desperately to recapture that feeling.
“If bullshit were money,” Skylar said, “we could buy our way out of this suck-ass job and do something worthwhile.”
“Give up slavin’ for minimum wage, bein’ away from home for months at a time, brown-nosing the brass, and riskin’ our lives for God and country? Are you nuts? What’s better than this?”
“Right, what was I thinking?”
“So, Skye, what’s it like to flag the president’s bird? Bet you peed your tighty whities.”
Skylar glanced at his sketch of the Viking. “Same as any other. He’s just cargo, only dumber than most.”
“Yeah, but I’ll bet you put some extra Tinker Bell flair into it for the cameras.”
Smitty huffed at Travis, “Which makes you Captain Hook?”
“Naw,” Hudson said, “with that big mouth, he’s got to be the crocodile. What’s his name?”
“Tick Tock,” Dunphy said. “Who doesn’t know that?”
“Shut your piehole, fruitcake,” Travis said. “Nobody asked you shit.”
Skylar thought about all the enlisted men who, almost to a man, were thin-skinned, loudmouthed, and shallow. More and more, he felt out of place in their company. He wondered if the navy deliberately allured individuals who were, well… crude, or if they became that way after they joined as a defense mechanism to this testosterone enriched atmosphere. The question was moot. There was no way to change them or the environment. Whenever he thought about it, however, he felt an inkling of concern that their loutish ways were rubbing off on him.
Dunphy leaned closer, uncomfortably close, to peek at the sketchpad. “Hey, that’s amazing. You went to art school?”
“Naw. Got sidetracked.”
“Yeah, didn’t we all. But, man, if I had your talent I wouldn’t be here shucking orders and eatin’ runny eggs and burnt Spam.”
“Takes more than talent.” Skylar knew how arduous the hardscrabble art world could be for an unknown artist. He had friends that ate or starved on the whim of reviews, art fairs, and group shows, and who only dreamed of sales to collectors. Some had MFAs and adjunct teaching posts, but most produced sketches for third-rate advertising firms. Not one of them made the kind of money from painting that could support a family.
Skylar lifted his beer toward Travis. “You organize this? Pretty risky considering who’s aboard. You must really love brig time.”
“Aw, shit, Skye, the brass’ll be on deck all day, listenin’ to that lying sack of turds. By the time they finish lickin’ each other’s buttholes, there’ll be nothing left but empty bottles in the trash chute.” He took another swallow and nodded at Dunphy. “But wouldn’t you have wet your panties if the brass saw you unloading this?”
Dunphy’s face blushed the color of a ripe peach. He dropped his head, intent on his letter once again.
“Hell,” Travis continued, “Eighteen months at sea, we deserve some party time.” Travis became more animated with each mouthful of Jack. He snatched the pad from Dunphy’s hand.
“Hey, give that back, you Neanderthal.”
“Lookie here, boys,” Travis said, raising his voice, “Dumpy’s writing a love letter to his sweetheart.”
Dunphy stabbed for his pad. The wattle of fat under his chin shook.
Skylar shot Travis a look. “Give it up, Trav.”
“Tommy,” Travis read in a loud voice, “I got your letter, and I’m thrilled you’ll be in Washington when we dock—”
Skylar swiped the pad from his hand. “You’re such a dick,” he said, and handed the pad back to Dunphy.
Travis displayed a full set of dingy teeth. “Sounds like Dumpy has two BFs.” His voice held no trace of humor this time.
Skylar’s stomach spun a slow somersault. He laid his sketchpad aside and stood eye-to-eye with Travis. “Say that again, asshole. I dare ya.” He used the vehement tone that he always found startling, like thunder on a cloudless day, and that he had intentionally developed for situations like this.
The room fell silent.
Skylar made his eyes go hard, enhancing the challenge. Travis bunched up a fist and pulled his arm from the sling. Skylar bent his knees to lower his center of gravity.
Before Travis could make his move, Captain Jake Blake rambled through the hatchway, looking stern, unflappable, and fit for his fifty-two years. Beneath his salt-and-pepper crew cut and hiding behind his tortoiseshell glasses were his piercing hazel eyes, which revealed his self-assured temperament. His dress white uniform was crisply pressed and his shoes buffed, communicating respect for his position and underlining his attention to detail. He smiled, but it seemed more the result of a paralyzed face than a cheerful disposition.
Hudson yelled, “Attention on deck!”
The men snapped to attention. A bottle tipped over and rolled to Jake’s feet, leaving a trail of beer in its wake. Jake stepped over it as if it were a landmine.
Travis glanced at Skylar and mouthed a silent, “Fuck!”
To pre-order the paperback, click http://www.amazon.com/First-Exposure-Alan-Chin/dp/1626390827/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1405440222&sr=8-1&keywords=first+exposure+alan+chin
Bold Stokes Books (http://www.boldstrokesbooks.com/) will release First Exposure, on Aug. 1, 2014 in paperback, Kindle, and all eBook formats. This book will be available on Amazon on Aug. 9th.
Monday, July 21, 2014
In The Companion by Lloyd A Meeker, Shepherd Bucknam hasn’t had a lover in more than a decade and doesn’t need one. As a Daka, he coaches men in the sacred art and mystery of sexual ecstasy all the time, and he loves his work. It’s his calling. In fact, he’s perfectly content—except for the terrors of his recurring nightmare and the ominous blood-red birthmarks on his neck. He’s convinced that together they foretell his early and violent death.
When Shepherd’s young protégé is murdered, LAPD Detective Marco Fidanza gets the case. The two men are worlds apart: Marco has fought hard for everything he’s accomplished, in sharp contrast to the apparent ease of Shepherd’s inherited wealth—but their mutual attraction is too hot for either of them to ignore.
Shepherd swears he’ll help find his protégé’s killer, but Marco warns him to stay out of it. When an influential politician is implicated, the police investigation grinds to a halt. Shepherd hires his own investigator. Marco calls it dangerous meddling. As their volatile relationship deepens, Shepherd discovers his nightmares might not relate to the future, but to the deadly legacy of a past life—a life he may have to revisit before he can fully live and love in this one.
Dreamspinner Press (July 23, 2014)
“I CAN’T wait,” Bill Smith wailed, his head thrashing from side to side on the bed. “I’m going to explode! I’ll die—I can’t!”
I wasn’t worried about the noise. I’d had my studio soundproofed as soon as I bought it. Bill could have screamed, and nobody would have heard much at all. The thick fragrance of our sweat, our breath, and the sage we’d burned at the beginning bore us up, up, into prayer.
He brought his hand to his penis to stroke it, but I pushed it away. “No. Don’t make it happen. You don’t have to. Just let it happen. Keep your eyes open. Listen to me. Let your body break all the way open, it’s good.” After weeks of practice, he was ready, so ready.
“See yourself opening to the sun, like a lotus,” I coaxed, undulating inside him. “Not to me, or me inside you, but to the whole universe. Give yourself to sun-fire, petal by petal. Keep your eyes open, breathe from your belly, let the mystery take you.”
He bucked, his eyes wide and fierce. He clamped his legs around my waist and dug his fingers into the sheets. He stopped breathing.
“Breathe out, now, all the way. Give all your beauty away. Now!” I pushed in all the way, and his breath burst out of him in a ragged prayer to “Oh, God!” as he came. His body arched and shuddered, beautiful and holy in release. Magnificent. I loved this work.
For a while, neither of us moved, just sweating, still joined. The only sound was our breathing as it slowed. After a few minutes, I leaned forward to kiss his throat softly as I reached for a small alabaster jar beside the bed.
“Thank you,” he said shakily, as I wiped him clean and slowly anointed his heart and belly chakras with sandalwood oil from the jar. “Fifty-some years since puberty, and I’ve never come without someone or something touching my dick before.”
“And?” I asked with a smile. I knew the answer already.
His belly convulsed as I slid out. “Amazing.”
“Isn’t it wonderful?” I said, toweling my hair dry. “Breathing,” I repeated from our very first session, “is our first and most primal sex— welcome in, as deep as we can; pour out, twice as long as in. Twice as much time giving as taking. Without breath, we have nothing, are nothing.”
I came up behind my client to give him an affectionate peck below his ear. I rubbed my clean-shaven cheek along his neck, wondering how long he’d stay this pliant, this gentle. “You did great today, Bill.”
I knew what Bill Smith’s real name was. I took on clients only by referral and then only after a thorough background check, but I honored professional convention. He was a relatively new client and, so far, preferred the pretense of anonymity. If that made him feel safer with me early on, no problem—his comfort made it easier to do the work. We could go deeper into the mystery.
He caught my eye in the mirror and held it, as only a tough, silver-haired airline executive could. Very used to being in charge. “You didn’t answer the question I asked in the shower,” he said. “But I’d like an answer. Do you ever regret being so beautiful?”
“Not that I’m aware of.” I hesitated, cautious about where this might lead. “Why?”
He shrugged, his smile disappointed. “I would have preferred you to say yes. It’s selfish of me, but the world would seem a little more just if once in a while you felt there was a downside to your looks. Even here in Los Angeles, your physical perfection is... unnerving. When we’re together, I’d rather not be the only one in the room who felt a little awkward about that, at least once in a while.”
Involuntarily, my hand rose to cover the three blood-red spots of the birthmark that lay along my neck. “I’m not perfect.”
His laugh carried a hard edge. “You,” he said with quiet accusation, “are more physically perfect than any human being has a right to be.” His gaze flicked to where my fingers lay. “And those things serve only as punctuation, like an eighteenth century beauty mark.”
I laughed too, just to deflect him. “Okay, then. But that’s not really what my coaching is about. Would you be less interested in working with me if I were less attractive physically?”
He pulled the knot of his tie into place, looking thoughtful. “It might have mattered to begin with. Not now, certainly.”
“That’s because you’re beginning to experience your own beauty, inside.” I waggled a finger at Mr. Smith’s reflection. “But I’m hearing comparison and competition creeping back into your language already, and you’re not even out the door.”
“Competition makes the world go around,” he said, showing teeth.
“Not with me, not here in my space.” I hugged his trim, mature body from behind, catching a rich whiff of sandalwood, and whispered into his ear, “You are unique. That’s what makes you a pleasure to be with, for whoever you’re with.”
“Huh. I’ll bet you say that to all your customers.”
“Clients,” I corrected. It was almost the same thing, but not quite. Certainly not to me. I gave him another smooch on his neck, on comfortable territory again. “Of course I do. Because it’s true. My work is to help a man discover how true that actually is.”
“By having the most spectacular sex imaginable.”
“Exactly!” I squeezed and pulled away. “Can you think of a better way to discover your sacred inner beauty?”
Bill shook his head, finally surrendering a real smile. “Trust me, I’m not looking for a better way.”
I winked into the mirror at him. “Me neither.”
After he left, I massaged my chakras using lavender oil as I always did to separate from a client. I did some stretching, showered again, and dressed slowly.
His question about beauty had touched a nerve. From childhood, I’d been keenly aware that people thought me beautiful. I was. It had been one of Mother’s favorite topics of conversation with her martini friends. But in spite of Bill’s curt dismissal, I was also marked by ugliness.
I stared into the mirror at the rough red spots that lay on my neck like blood spatter. As they had since puberty, when I’d first started having the nightmares, they whispered to me of grisly, violent death. Mine.
Any number of times I’d decided to have them removed, but I’d never been able to go through with it. Always—once as late as actually settling onto the table with the plastic surgeon standing next to me—I decided it would be wrong to cut them out. They were a true part of me, somehow, even though I hated that they were. I didn’t want to be beaten to death like the nightmare promised.
My throat tightened and began to ache. I’d looked at them too long. Sweat beaded on my forehead. I shut my eyes and breathed into the rising swell of nausea. I’m safe right now. I began a silent affirmation. This is my studio. I choose my clients. I’m safe here.
I wouldn’t let that prophecy of violence and death become reality, even though it had marked me from birth. I had the resources to make sure it didn’t. I took all the precautions.
I wiped my face with the damp towel and shrugged into a fresh shirt. I needed to schedule another appointment with Reggie, my therapist, to work on that again. But right then, I was due for lunch with Stef at Chez Henri. My reservation was for two o’clock, and they wouldn’t hold a table even for a regular like me.
I LEFT the keys in the Maserati for the parking valet and stepped into the elegant, restrained clamor of Chez Henri. Stef stood waiting for me in the vestibule, looking a little nervous. His face lit up when he saw me, and I’m sure mine did the same. We hugged. He was such a great kid.
“They kept looking at me like I’d snuck in through the kitchen,” Stef said with his brightest aw-shucks grin. “Guess they don’t want an Oklahoma farm boy here unless he’s trussed up on a platter with an apple in his mouth. They should’ve asked—I’d’a said sure, for the right price!”
He glanced around the room. “Could be fun, with some of these guys.”
Stef was naïve, way too open for his own good, but I wasn’t sure how to teach him more caution without damping the irrepressible spirit that made him so special. I’d lecture him about it over lunch. Again.
“The Scottish wild salmon is particularly fine today, Mr. Bucknam,” the maître d’ murmured as he seated us at a window table.
“Thank you, William. Your ‘particularly fine’ must translate to ‘heavenly’ for the rest of us.”
One corner of William’s urbane lip curled heavenward at the compliment, maybe as much as a millimeter, as he withdrew into the flow of his domain.
I watched Stef tuck into his steak the way he did just about everything—with unabashed enthusiasm. I could list plenty of reasons why I felt so protective of him, why I enjoyed being with him so much, wanted to teach him how to flourish, succeed. I wanted him to be happy.
He was a good kid, smart and dangerously generous of heart. His love of adventure electrified everything he did. He made me laugh, more than I had in a long time. I also considered him my protégé, which was something new for me. I found my proprietary attitude surprisingly satisfying. He loved our work and would become superb at it.
Six months ago, Stef had tried to pick me up at a party as he worked the room—so new to LA he was still wearing cowboy boots and a belt with a giant silver and brass buckle, his straw-blond thatch headed in half a dozen directions without any help from hair product. I’d been mildly offended at first, but then as we talked, I became intrigued—and ultimately charmed.
For his part, Stef had been miffed when he discovered that he wasn’t going to make any money off this particular trick, but by then, he was too interested to say no. We had a truly wonderful time.
He was special. From that first night, he’d been eager to learn how to grow beyond just hustling. He was imaginative, playful, and talented too. He possessed the intuitive empathy that enabled him to listen to another man’s body. He was an excellent listener.
I took a bite of salmon. It really was heavenly. I lost myself in the melting texture and flavors for a moment. Beautifully delicate, with just the right whisper of tarragon in the butter.
“Wherever you went, I could tell you had a good time,” Stef said with a leer. “I swear, sometimes food is just as good as sex.” He waved his fork at me and winked. “Except sex with you, which is better’n food any day. I think I need another lesson soon.”
“Have you been doing your meditation and breath work?”
“Every day.” Stef dropped his eyes. “Well, nearly every day. I like it. Makes me feel good.” He looked up, his eyes soft and thoughtful. “It really does. I feel like I glow afterward.”
He cut off another bite and stuffed it in his mouth. “Mercy, that is fine,” he mumbled around it. “And speaking of sex, is it okay if I use the studio later this afternoon? I’ve got a high roller.”
“Sure. I was there just now, but I didn’t clean up. Camilla won’t be in until tomorrow morning, so you’ll have to tidy up before your appointment.” I paused, weighing whether I should ask. Stef got skittish if he felt I was crowding him. “Anyone I know?”
“Nah, it’s not even someone I’m supposed to know, but I do. This is our second time. First was at a hotel a couple days ago. But I saw him on the news yesterday going on about some big project. Political guy. Wild man in the sack, though. Big dick, knows how to use it.”
Stef impaled a spear of asparagus. “Isn’t it kinda stupid to stack these up in a tipi like they do? I mean, it’s the first thing I pushed over getting to the—”
“For god’s sake, don’t let on you know who he is.” I grabbed Stef’s fork hand so hard the asparagus jarred free and fell back onto his plate. “If he doesn’t want you to know who he is, then trust me, you don’t want to know either. You’ve got to play by the rules. You could get into serious trouble if you don’t.”
I let go of Stef’s hand with a squeeze, a little embarrassed at feeling—and sounding—like an overprotective parent. “I care a lot about you,” I said, trying to explain myself. “I should start screening all your clients.”
Stef shook his head firmly and picked up the dislodged asparagus. “I know you mean well, Shepherd, that’s a sure thing.” He popped it in his mouth and chewed. When he looked up, his eyes told me he’d dug in and wouldn’t budge.
“I know you got the finest corral I can imagine all ready for me, but I still can’t abide fences. Even yours.” He looked sad. “I get spooked every time I see a fence. I just ain’t ready to give up the right to pick my own guys.”
“I understand that.” I smiled and held up my hands, backing off. “It was wrong of me to put it that way. It’s just that I get scared for you sometimes, Stef. Los Angeles is a very different place from Oklahoma City. Bad things happen to men like us every day here. There’s good reason behind my paranoia.”
“Geez, you’re really serious about this, aren’t you?” Stef grinned at me as if reassuring a baby brother afraid to get up on the big scary tractor. “Don’t worry, dude. His secret is safe with me. I’ve got nobody but you to tell.”
OUTSIDE THE restaurant, Stef seemed to hang back when the valet brought my car up, its engine rumbling, impatient for the street.
“Where’s yours?” I asked Stef. I tipped the valet but closed the car door to stop the warning bell from dinging.
Stef blushed. “I’m already parked at the studio. I figured you’d say yes.”
“Not a problem. That’s why I gave you your own set of keys. How did you get here, then?”
“Walked. It’s only a mile or so.”
“Nobody walks in Los Angeles,” I laughed. “Jump in—I’ll give you a lift.”
Stef laughed and climbed in. “How can I say no?” The doors clunked shut, and we buckled up.
“Sweet.” He ran a reverent hand over the burl paneling. “Dude, you have no idea how much I love riding in this thing,” Stef sighed. “A bad-ass Maserati. I’d send my folks a big ol’ photo of me in it just to annoy them, but my dad wouldn’t even open the damn envelope.”
We pulled into traffic and turned up a back street toward Westwood. After a few blocks, we were stopped by a patrolman waving his arms. Lights from two police cars flashed. Another cop was stringing up yellow tape.
An ambulance siren got louder behind us, coming up fast. Something bad had happened; I could feel it. My stomach knotted. “Oh, damn,” I whispered to no one, bracing against the first wave of dread and nausea.
“It’s okay, he’s saying just go around,” said Stef. We crept forward. I kept my eyes focused on the street. Maybe I could get through this without a disaster.
“Look—just follow his... holy crap, check it out!” Stef crowed, pressing his face against the window. “The guy on the ground, he’s in cuffs. Look at all the blood! Cripes, how can he still be alive? He must have tried to... shit—there’s another guy, no cuffs, nothing. Not moving at all. Man, he’s gotta be dead already, lying twisted up like that. What a mess!”
I sped up, tried to escape it, tried not to look—but I did. One glance was all it took. I tasted thick salt, leaned forward, and lost my wild Scottish salmon through the steering wheel, onto the floor between my knees.
“Jesus, dude!” Stef shouted, laughing nervously, putting down the window. “What the fuck was that?”
I wiped my mouth with the back of one hand, steering the car past the crime scene with the other. “Sorry.” I smiled tight-lipped, afraid I might hurl again. “Violence. Makes me sick.”
“No kidding!” he coughed, his face screwed up in disgust. “You gotta get that taken care of.”
“Trust me, I’ve tried. Still can’t crack it. At least not yet.”
“Throwing up in a car like this, though. Jeez, that’s gotta be a federal crime all on its own.”
I shook my head. “The dealership can take care of it. It’s happened before. They’ll make it like new.”
We drove to the studio in silence through the hot Los Angeles afternoon. Even with the fan on high and windows down, the car still stank. I pulled into the garage and stopped at the elevator.
Stef leaned back in through the open window, looking worried. “You gonna be okay? Really?”
“Yeah, I’ll be fine.” I gave him a feeble thumbs-up. “You be careful, okay?”
“Sure thing, boss. I’ll call you later tonight.”
“No, call me tomorrow. I’ve got a club dinner and concert tonight. I probably won’t get home until after midnight.”
Stef nodded, returned the thumbs-up, and headed for the elevator, whistling.
Stinking and clammy, I headed home, calling on the hands-free to get the car scheduled for cleanup.
To purchase, clickhttp://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=5243&cPath=55_1153
Monday, July 14, 2014
In My Favorite Uncle by Marshall Thornton, Martin Dixon’s carefully constructed peaceful life is turned upside down when his super Christian eighteen year-old nephew Carter shows up unexpectedly on his doorstep and announces that he’s gay, Martin’s first impulse is to send him back to his parents. But when he discovers that Carter has been in a mental hospital to cure his gay-ness he realizes he’s stuck with the boy. Unfortunately, the two get on each other’s nerves, each driving the other to distraction. Independently, they each arrive at the same conclusion. The other would be much less annoying if he only had…a boyfriend.
My Favorite Uncle
Wilde City Press (June 25, 2014)
Martin Dixon was secretly in love with Jax Hammer. Deeply, profoundly in love despite the fact that they had never met, that Jax Hammer was not his real name, and that Martin was double the boy’s age. Theirs was a relationship of the new millennium. Fully digital.
The entertainment center loomed against one wall in Martin’s TV room-slash-office. After closing the mini-blinds and the drapes, setting the TV to a non-neighbor-offending volume and placing a tube of Vaseline, a box of Kleenex, and the remote on the pull-out sofa that no one ever pulled out, he was finally ready to open the secret compartment in the bottom shelf of his entertainment center.
In the compartment were four Jax Hammer DVDs: A Brief History of Gangbangs, Howard’s End (in which Jax starred as Howard), Ifs and Butts, and the football-themed End Zone. Martin chose Ifs and Butts because it co-starred Jax’s real life boyfriend Rydar King. It also contained Martin’s all-time favorite porno moment in chapter sixteen: spread-eagled on a brown leather sofa, Jax looked up dreamily at Rydar. About to orgasm, he mouthed the words “I love you,” or maybe it was “I love your dick.” Martin wasn’t entirely sure. But he leaned toward “I love you” because a genuine smile spread across Rydar’s face, and Martin didn’t think Rydar would be too impressed by someone loving his dick. He was a porno star, after all.
Martin had seen the moment fifty—okay sixty—times but it seemed completely real each time. The models slipped out of the performance of sex and into the reality of sex, and the idea that it was real was what fascinated Martin.
DVD into the player and pulling his pants down to
his ankles, Martin waited impatiently through the warnings and the threats of
prosecution. When he got to the main menu, he started the movie and began
skipping through. The moment happened at 1:36:14, but Martin liked to start
about ten minutes earlier just at the point where Jax Hammer—
The phone rang. Martin debated whether or not to answer. He did have an anticipatory hard-on and a dollop of Vaseline spread all over his left hand. What he didn’t have was caller ID. He had no idea who was on the other end, and it might be important. It might be an emergency. Though he couldn’t think what kind of emergency. Martin was certain he’d eliminated all the drama from his life, which really should have removed emergencies with it. He figured it was nothing, but he wouldn’t know for sure if he didn’t answer, and the possibility that it was more than nothing would haunt him like a bad debt.
He really did need to sign up for caller ID.
“Martin? What are you doing?” It was Ricky. Though he cared deeply about his best friend, his hard-on immediately fled.
“Nothing,” Martin lied.
“Great, I’m at Marix. You should pop over for a drink.” Ricky worked as first assistant to film producer and wunderkind, Winnie Collier. Collier’s career started when she coerced a writer into a free option on a script about two forty-year-old cops going undercover as skateboarders and then sold it for seven figures. The film never got made, but that was blamed on the writer; Winnie got a production deal, an office, and two assistants to torture. Ricky spent a great deal of time at Marix.
“I can’t pop over. I’m thirty-four miles away. In case you haven’t noticed, there are no good freeways from Long Beach to West Hollywood,” Martin complained. “A trip like that has to be planned a week in advance.”
“Please. You have to come,” he paused tentatively. “There’s someone I want you to meet. Someone you might like.”
A chill ran up and down Martin’s spine. “In that case, ‘no’ just turned into ‘absolutely not.’”
“Irving. His name is Irving, and he reads scripts for Winnie. I’ve been wanting you to meet him for ages.”
“At least let me tell you about him,” Ricky insisted. “He’s about your age—”
“Our age,” Martin corrected.
“Don’t be bitchy.”
“Is he cute?” Martin found the only enjoyment he got out of fix-ups was getting his friends to lie.
“He’s so sweet.”
Shit, Martin thought, he’s trying to fix me up with a guy who isn’t even cute enough to lie about.
“Was he ever cute at any point during his life?” Martin asked.
“Everyone’s cute when they’re a baby,” Ricky pointed out. “Irving is responsible and stable. Aren’t you always telling me I should go out with someone stable?”
“Yes. You should go out with someone responsible and stable. I, on the other hand, am not looking for a boyfriend—responsible, stable, or otherwise. No matter how cute he was as a baby.”
“I’m just trying to be nice,” Ricky insisted. “You know, it’s been forever. You really need to get over…” He stopped, and the thirty-four miles of air between them could have been cut with a knife.
“I really need to get over what?” Martin asked.
“I have to go,” Ricky squeaked.
After they hung up, Martin struggled to get back in the mood for Jax Hammer. Of course, he knew what Ricky thought he should get over, but he refused to think about it. He didn’t need to think about it. Ricky was wrong. He was over that particular thing. Person. Whatever. Martin clenched his jaw and grimly turned Ifs and Butts back on. He told himself to stop thinking about Ricky and concentrate on the movie. He’d actually watched the movie all the way through once and remembered the plot as having something to do with questioning your sexuality, hence the ifs. Of course, none of the models wondered for long, which supplied the butts.
Rydar pushed Jax onto the leather sofa and grabbed hold of his ankles. Jax had a thin, over-ribbed chest, dangling arms, a thatch of pubic hair and the most amazing blue eyes. He was totally retro. He could have stepped right out of the seventies. He looked the way guys looked before Nautilis was invented.
Perhaps Jax’s seventies look was what appealed to Martin. Of course, he remembered the seventies. All too well, in fact. Martin would be fifty in four hundred and thirty-seven days, and that reality was beginning to wear on him, like Chinese water torture or coastal erosion.
Martin’s interest in the movie returned. Rydar pumped, Jax squirmed happily, and Martin added another dollop of Vaseline to his palm.
“YOU NEVER SPEND ANY TIME WITH ME!”
Martin paused the
DVD and stared at the ceiling. They were at it
again. When Martin moved into the El Cordova more than a decade ago, he thought
he’d be blissfully happy in the 1920s Spanish revival building. What he hadn’t
realized was that more attention had been paid to the landscaping in the
courtyard than to the insulation in the walls and ceiling.
“I’M SPENDING TIME WITH YOU RIGHT
ARE NOT! YOU’RE GETTING READY FOR WORK!
THAT IS NOT SPENDING TIME WITH ME!”
“STOP SCREAMING LIKE A GIRL!” This was mild for The Asshole. Martin wondered if he wasn’t feeling well.
The Asshole was the ‘friend’ of Martin’s upstairs neighbor, Jimmy. He was a decade younger and fat enough to bring to mind the word ‘stampede’ every time he walked to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Martin never managed to learn the Asshole’s name because he didn’t speak to Jimmy, who Martin thought was something of an asshole himself. In his sixties and partially deaf, Jimmy came from some vague middle Eastern country. In the days after 9/11, he went door to door in the building and explained that he was not a Muslim, which convinced everyone in the building he was. Except Martin. Jimmy’s deafness meant that he’d heard every word the guy said for nearly two years. If he was praying half a dozen times a day, Martin would have noticed.
GET OUT OF MY WAY. I’M TRYING TO GET DRESSED. FUCKING MORON!” Ah, Martin thought,
that was much more like The Asshole. He’s feeling just fine.
This, of course, is what Ricky thought he was missing. Someone to get in the way. Someone to scream and call him names. Someone to ruin his life. Martin was resolutely single. So single, in fact, he’d even managed to avoid the annoyance of a pet, despite the offers his neighbors and acquaintances made of kittens and stray dogs. At first, he’d just been honest and said ‘no’ outright. But after he’d had to change hairdressers when he was pressed to take “my dear friend’s darling cockapoo. Charlie died of AIDS, and Snowball is homeless. I thought you’d be perfect.”
“You thought I’d be perfect to spend my time picking up the droppings of your dead friend’s yappy hairball?”
“Apparently not,” the young man said, proceeding to give Martin the worst haircut he’d ever had. After that, Martin told people he was deathly allergic.
Martin heard footsteps and what sounded like a scuffle. “SO HELP ME, I’M GONNA BEAT THE SHIT OUT OF YOU IF YOU
Martin got up and shouted out the window, “
AND I’M GONNA CALL THE COPS IF YOU DON’T
KNOCK IT OFF!”
Jimmy and The Asshole hated it when Martin called the police. Martin was pretty sure they’d be quiet now, so he tried to focus on Ifs and Butts again. He ran the
DVD back a minute or so. Rydar pushed Jax onto the
leather sofa and grabbed hold of his ankles. Jax threw his head from side to
side in ecstasy. Practically folded in half, Jax looked up at Rydar. Their eyes
locked. Jax licked his lips. Jax moaned. Jax was about to say it, in another
few seconds he’d say, he’d say the thing Martin wanted him—
Martin’s doorbell rang, and he jumped off the sofa as though someone had just walked into the room, narrowly avoiding being tripped by his own pants.
“Shit,” he said as he put the
DVD on pause, leaving Jax and Rydar hanging on the
verge. He grumpily pulled his pants up. Was the Asshole coming down to
apologize for being such an asshole? Unlikely. It was probably a Jehovah’s
Witness. They liked to canvass this neighborhood for some reason. If it was a
Jehovah’s Witness, Martin decided he’d finally go ahead and tell them that
there was no soliciting in the building. He hoped they’d get offended at the
idea that they might be selling God door to door because, well, that’s exactly
what they were doing. And he wanted the opportunity to tell them so at least
once in his life.
Martin shoved his Vaseline covered hand into a pocket and opened the door to find himself looking at, not a Jehovah’s Witness, but a teenager wearing a purple Harvest Crusade t-shirt. The t-shirt might have lead Martin to believe he was about to be witnessed to, except that it was incredibly dirty and the boy inside it had a bad sunburn and a patchy stubble on his chin. The boy also had Martin’s own sandy hair and dark chocolate eyes. With a half-hearted smile, the boy said, “Hi, Uncle Martin.”
“Carter? Are you Carter?”
The boy nodded. Martin smiled stiffly and tried to figure out what was happening. Carter was his born-again Christian brother’s oldest child. He belonged in Arizona going to church four times a week, but instead he was here, dirty and unshaven at Martin’s door. Martin didn’t like the possibilities occurring to him. “So, what brings you by?”
“Oh. Of course.” Immediately, Martin regretted saying ‘of course.’ He should have acted surprised. People are flattered if you act surprised when they come out, something Martin thought was stupid and vaguely homophobic but—
“You know, I didn’t mean you act or that you seem…I didn’t know you were gay until...I just put two and two together and got gay, right now, as we’re speaking…” Martin trailed off and stood staring at the kid.
Not that Carter was doing much of anything. He wasn’t smiling sweetly, he wasn’t imploring Martin with his eyes, he wasn’t begging for Martin’s help. He also wasn’t going away. Shit. Martin was going to have to invite him in.
“Could you excuse me a moment?”
Martin dashed into the TV room-slash-office, snatched up the remote and hit the stop button. Jax Hammer and Rydar King instantly disappeared. He shoved the tube of Vaseline between the cushions of the pullout and, after a quick cleanup job on his hand, put the Kleenex box on his desk. It probably wasn’t a big deal, after all, the kid just came out to him. But he’d rather his relationship with Jax Hammer remain private.
When Martin got back to the living room, Carter had come inside uninvited and stood in the middle of the room between the sofa and the coffee table, staring at the mock fireplace. Martin had no idea what to say to the kid, so he said, “It doesn’t work. Originally, this kind of fireplace was gas, but they’re not well ventilated so they have this tendency to, you know, kill people. Carbon monoxide or something like that.”
Carter stared blankly at Martin.
“It’s bad when people die at home.” Why did he say that? What did it even mean? Why couldn’t he think of something normal to say to this kid? “Gosh, when was the last time we saw each other?”
“Grandpa Dixon’s funeral.”
“And how old were you then?”
“Eleven. Yeah. You were cute...” Martin considered for a moment. “Wait, I didn’t see you at Grandma Dixon’s funeral? You would have been almost thirteen?”
“Bible camp. Already paid for.”
“Oh, okay.” Martin thought back to his father’s funeral. He remembered Carter as a skinny, underdeveloped brat with an over-developed sense of Christian entitlement. Apparently, puberty had changed a few things.
“So, how did you get here?”
“That’s really dangerous. You know, you shouldn’t…” Martin stopped. It was not his job to tell this kid not to hitchhike. “Anyway, I guess we need to find you some place to stay.”
Carter looked at his torn sneakers and shook his head. “I, um, can’t stay here?”
“Oh…” Martin felt nauseated. “I’m sure we can come up with other options.” He scrambled to think of somewhere he could send the kid. Youth hostel? Homeless center? Freeway underpass? He sighed heavily and gave up. “I guess you don’t have any luggage?”
Carter shook his head.
Holy fuck, thought Martin. His hitchhiking, penniless, possession-less nephew must have been tossed out of his parents’ home and now intends to live here. Here! With me! What a disaster! Okay, okay. Martin told himself to calm down. Big deal. The kid would stay for a day or two, then Martin would figure out somewhere else he could go. Like back with his parents.
“Can I take a shower?” Carter asked.
“I’ll get you a towel.”
While his nephew took a shower, Martin continued to fret. He wasn’t good at relatives. His grandparents, reportedly awful people, had shown some consideration and died while he was in grade school. He hadn’t laid eyes on an aunt or an uncle since he was fifteen, and his parents, who had been much more interested in each other than in either of their children, had died within a year of each other.
After his parents died, his brother had seemed to expect they were going to have some kind of relationship, but since Martin had almost nothing to say to the born again-Republican sports fanatic, their bond faded. Now they didn’t even exchange Christmas cards. It was almost as though Martin didn’t have relatives, which was quite pleasant in many ways. But suddenly, he did have relatives. He had a nephew. A Carter.
Not knowing what else to do, Martin made tea. He wanted a glass of wine, but he’d feel like he had to offer one to Carter, which would have been illegal. Right? Stopping cold in his tracks, he tried to remember how old Carter was. Not old enough to drink, certainly. Somewhere in his late teens. Seventeen, eighteen, nineteen. Wait, he was eleven at Martin’s father’s funeral and twelve at his mother’s which made him around eighteen. Maybe not eighteen. Maybe seventeen. Not only was Carter a relative, he was a teenage relative. And Martin had let him in.
Carter looked better when finally came out of the bathroom, even though he swam in the ancient 501s and t-shirt that Martin had given him. He did seem grateful for the tea and chocolate cookies Martin had set out on the oak dining table that took up half the small living room. Although he knew the question was dangerous, Martin felt compelled to ask it. “Did you want to call your parents and let them know where you are?”
“No,” Carter said simply.
“I’m sure they’re worried.”
“You do something in the movies, right?”
“I proofread captioning for the deaf.”
“Oh.” Carter clearly expected something more glamorous, something that required attending televised award shows and thinking up acceptance speeches.
“I thought you lived in Hollywood?” the boy asked.
“A long time ago. I’ve been down here in Long Beach about twelve years.”
Why are they talking about me? Martin wondered. Why weren’t they talking about what was really going on here?
“I guess you had a fight with your parents?”
“Kind of? Is that teenager for ‘yes?’”
Carter shrugged, and they fell into an uneasy silence.
“I’m going to have some wine,” Martin announced and ran off to the kitchen. God, this was worse than internet dating, something Martin had given up because of the incredible awkwardness of talking to strangers. You’d think it would be easy since you knew nothing about them, but it was harder than talking to someone you knew everything about.
Martin was halfway through his glass of wine before he got back to the living room. Carter smiled as he sat down. The kid had a great smile, Martin thought, stunning even. You could really mess people up with a smile like that.
“I’m sorry what?” Martin asked, having missed what Carter just said.
“I said, you’re really old.”
“I’m old? Are you trying to be rude?” Martin wasn’t sure because it sounded as though there was a touch of pride in his nephew’s voice.
“No, it’s just...don’t most gay men die before they’re forty?”
“Who told you that?” Martin gulped down the rest of his wine. He should have brought the bottle.
“That’s what they said at The Renewal Center,” Carter explained. “They had statistics.”
“The what center?”
“The Renewal Center. It’s this special part of Willowbrook Psychiatric Hospital. My parents sent me there for therapy. I only stayed a week and a half. They had to let me go when I turned eighteen. Two days ago.”
“Oh. Happy birthday.” Great. The kid’s been in a mental hospital. Martin almost couldn’t breathe. How could this be happening to him? The kid was nuts. “So, why were you in a mental hospital?”
“I’m gay,” Carter said.
“Yeah, I know, but that—” Martin tumbled, like a suitcase falling down a flight of stairs. “Your parents put you in a mental hospital to have you ‘un-gayed?’”
“That’s not what they call it.”
“What do they call it?”
All Martin could think of to say was, “Ouch.” Well, sexual reorientation did sound painful. Apparently, it was the right thing to say because Carter nodded his head and said, “Yeah.”
Wait a minute, Martin thought, this can’t be true. His brother, Paul, was completely reasonable in many ways. Wasn’t he? Actually, Martin barely knew him. They hadn’t lived in the same state for almost thirty years, and when they did see each other or talk on the phone, they carefully avoided discussing politics and religion, and had never once talked about Martin’s sexuality. Maybe he was the kind of person who would do that to his own child.
No, Carter was probably lying. He’s probably really crazy. Telling Martin that he’d been in a Christian psych ward where they convert gay people was the perfect way to get Martin to help him. Martin would have no choice.
Calm down, he told himself. The kid had just walked in the door. He had no reason to assume he was a gay version of The Bad Seed. In all likelihood, he was just a kid in trouble. “Would you like to see a therapist? I mean, I’ll pay for it, of course.”
“No, I’m good,” Carter said, as though Martin had just offered him another cup of tea or an unappealing cookie.
“Okay.” Martin was relieved. He hadn’t actually intended to offer to pay for something as expensive as therapy. He didn’t intend to pay for anything. He just had to remember not to offer. Not offering to pay for things made it easier to not actually pay for them.
“So, tell me about being in a psychiatric hospital. What’s that like?” A therapist would ask a question like that. Martin was tempted to start calculating his savings.
“Um, could we talk about that another time? I’m kind of tired. I haven’t had much sleep in the last few days.”
It was only seven o’clock, but Martin jumped up and the two of them went into Martin’s TV room-slash-office. Martin hoped he could find the double size sheets he’d bought with the sofa. As he yanked the cushions off the sofa, the tube of Vaseline flew onto the floor. Both Carter and Martin stared at it for a moment, then Martin blushed, snatching it up. “I have dry skin.”
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