Monday, May 20, 2013
In Alma’s Will by Anel Viz, an old woman’s dying wish to turn her house into a safe home for troubled gay teenagers stirs up painful memories and bitter resentments, but also leads to tearful reunions and—someday, perhaps—to healing.
Livia Redding returns to Macon, Georgia, with her husband and children after her mother’s death to settle her estate. She is shocked and offended to hear that the will stipulates that her house be used as a safe home for gay teenagers rejected by their families. Against her husband’s better judgment, Liv decides to contest it and stay on in Georgia with their children.
But her mother had a reason for making the bequest: her son, Ronnie, who disappeared a quarter-century ago, after his father threw him out of the house because he was gay.
Silver Publishing (May 18, 2013)
Excerpt (2 short consecutive chapters from Part II):
[Situation: Pending a decision on the validity of her mother’s will, the court has granted Liv’s petition and given her permission to clean her mother’s house and pack its contents. She is convinced that Alma was under the influence of the interracial gay couple next door when she decided she wanted her house made into a safe home.]
Liv poured herself a tall glass of lemonade, her third that morning. She'd forgotten how hot Macon could get in summer. Unless the heat affected adults more. The twins and Li'l Eric didn't seem to mind as much, playing out in the back yard. "Hotter'n hell and a helluva lot less comfortable," Daddy used to say. "Thank God for cold beer!" Of course she remembered about the heat; only her body had forgotten how it felt. Had July always been this hot? Maybe those activists were right about global warming.
She looked out the kitchen window to check on the children before returning to the pile of half-packed boxes in the living room. She saw that one of those men next door—the white man, Franklin—had come out to work in his garden. No harm in that other than his apparel: a sleeveless tee-shirt and one of those skimpy Speedos men like him liked to wear. He wasn't paying them any attention, and they'd been warned not to talk to those neighbors. That black cat of her mother's, the one she called Ronnie, lay curled up in the sun. How fitting that that cat had attached itself to them!
The thump-thump of Li'l Eric's ball on the back of the house blended in with the familiar sounds of a Macon summer: flies buzzing, the whirring of the ceiling fans, and the absolute quiet in the street outside on a scorching day. What other physical memories had stayed with her? The sour odor of beer on Daddy's breath and the sweat sticking to his body when he'd hug her close. "You like the feel of a strong man's arms, doncha Princess? Nothin' queer about you!" Her brother, Ronnie. No one ever mentioned his name. Had Daddy been that attentive when he was around? She only remembered wishing for a brother or sister to share in those hugs.
Now she was sweating like Daddy. Why hadn't Mama put in central air like those men next door? It wouldn't have surprised her to learn it was the heat that killed her. She'd refused an autopsy when the police called, out of consideration for the doctor who'd have to perform it. She'd been dead for a week when they found her… and in this heat!
The heat. She'd have visited more often after Daddy died except for that, she told herself, but only their summers were free since the twins had started school. Christmas was for Eric's family—dozens of people from all over the country, while in Macon there were only Daddy and Mama, and Eric loathed Daddy, loathed him from the very first, even before he got drunk at their wedding. "Thank God for cold beer."
They'd come home to ask permission to marry. She wasn't quite eighteen yet. She'd gone to Atlanta with a girlfriend to take some secretarial courses so she could land a decent job, and never really came back. She signed up for a course on investments, thinking it would come in handy, but it turned out to be corporate investments and not much use. The instructor, though, was a young man out to earn a little money on the side while he finished up his MBA. Eric—so smart, so worldly. A few weeks into the course she found herself shacked up with him. Then, towards the end of the semester he was offered a good job in Idaho. She figured she'd never see him again. She never expected him to propose. So they went to Macon and he met her father.
Now she was back home, after all this time. At the Heymers', that is. Who owned this house was up in the air; she was only allowed in to pack up the contents. That much Mama had left her, though she couldn't sell them off yet.
She remembered her surprise at seeing those two men, Mama's neighbors, there when Evan Marker read them the will. He said they'd helped her with the house after Daddy died. She thought maybe she'd left them a token something to thank them. Some token—the whole damn house, and to turn into a home for queers! What the hell had gotten into Mama? It was like a slap in the face. She'd nearly sunk through the floor.
She'd left the office fuming, but Eric shrugged it off. The house was peanuts, he'd said. He'd even laughed.
"What's so funny?" she'd asked. "People like that make me sick. You suddenly approve of homosexuals?"
"Are you kidding? You know what I think. I just wonder what made her come up with that one. Gay teenagers—what a kick in the balls to that redneck father of yours! Alma finally had the guts to spit in his face. Can't you appreciate the irony of it all?"
"No, I can't. What does Daddy have to do with it anyway? It's not your name that'll be dragged through the mud if this house thing is upheld. The local papers will have a field day." And all the time she was thinking: They'll dredge up Ronnie.
Eric had made light of it: "What the hell? You'll be far away." He only knew that she'd had an older brother who died when she was four.
They'd had the same argument two or three times before he left and since then had thrashed it out over the phone more than once.
Liv had never known Eric to be so stubborn. True to his word, he wasn't standing in her way, although he wasn't much help to her, either. At least he'd promised to come back for the hearing. "If it comes to that," he'd said. Of course it would come to that! None of them was going to back down; a settlement was out of the question.
She didn't regret her decision to contest the will. As Eric had predicted, the case showed signs of dragging on forever. She'd stay to see it through, though, with or without her husband. In the meantime she was alone.
At last there had been a glimmer they were making some progress. A glimmer—no more than that. Up till then, her lawyer had been in correspondence with their lawyer; now they had decided that everyone concerned should come together and try to reach an agreement. Pointless, of course, but still progress if you saw it as a last gasp to forestall the inevitable.
The meeting would take place in Evan Marker's office two days from now. She didn't look forward to it. Those men gave her the creeps. In spite of that, she dragged out the packing and constantly risked running into one of them by coming over for a couple of hours every day to check on the house… her mother's house. Her house. It wasn't fair that she couldn't live there but had to pay the electric bills if she wanted lights and cold drinks in the refrigerator. Thank God Eric was the big earner and he sent her money to cover her expenses. She didn't have a job anymore. Well, it couldn't be helped. She'd find another once she'd put this business behind her and gone back to Idaho.
She went back to her packing.
The lemonade was almost gone; Liv had been gulping it. Had she been this thirsty as a child? Probably. The kids kept coming in to ask for something cold to drink. Bet they'd be wanting more any minute now. What were they up to? It had been a while since she heard Li'l Eric's ball. She started back to the window to see what was up.
She wasn't really worried. Eric was right about those men—they did keep to themselves. Liv picked the vegetables now, though she couldn't use most of them and they were piling up in the fridge, and the weeds had started to take over. Those men might not come into the yard, but it would still be irresponsible not to keep an eye on the kids with people like them living next door. She wasn't too concerned for the twins. They were older and always together. One of them wouldn't go off on her own. Also, they learned about not trusting strangers in school nowadays, and girls were naturally more obedient than boys. Li'l Eric, now, had only done first grade. No telling what he might do. An overly sensitive child—sometimes willful, sometimes timid and fearful. And besides… She wished his sisters would include him in their games. She didn't feel comfortable with him playing alone.
The boy had evidently mastered bouncing his ball against the wall to his satisfaction. Either that, or he got bored doing it, because now he was throwing it as high as he could and trying to catch it. She smiled. He missed every time. He needed his father; Eric would have played catch with him, taught him, if he were here. He'd have said something to that man too, told him to put on a pair of shorts. Perhaps she ought to say something herself. No, better not to acknowledge him; he might think she was ogling him.
The sweat glistened on his body. He'd taken off his tank top and was standing in the middle of his yard, swigging down his pretentious bottled water with his head thrown back and his shock of straight blond hair hanging loose—and wearing next to nothing, no doubt to show off that indecent bulge of his. Did he have to make a display of being thirsty? People like that had become shameless, making a spectacle of themselves, flaunting their gayness as if it were something to be proud of!
As she was turning away from the window, she saw the ball go over the fence. She was about to tell Li'l Eric not to touch the allamanda—she'd warned the children several times already, but kids forget these things when there's a ball involved. The man noticed it too. He walked over, picked it up, and tossed it back to Li'l Eric, who fumbled it and had to run after it. The man smiled and said something. Liv flew to the door.
"What did you just say to my son?"
"Not much. I just said, 'You're welcome.'" He must have thought her a mother hen.
"He remembered to thank you, then. That's good."
"Not exactly. I said it as a reminder. He wasn't rude, really. I think your children are afraid of me, you know."
"It's safer when kids are a little distrustful of people they don't know. We've told them to keep their distance. That's all."
The man frowned. "Don't you think it would be better not to involve your children in this unpleasantness about the house?" As if it were any of his business how she brought up her children!
He must have caught on as soon as he said it, because a look of anger flashed across his face and his body stiffened. Liv was prepared to stare him down, but he simply turned his back on her and walked away. "And I'll thank you not to walk around like that when my children are here," she called out after him. "I don't want them staring at you."
He ignored her. His rudeness rankled. She almost wished he had answered her back so she could give him a piece of her mind. On the other hand, if they got into an argument there was no telling what he might say, and in front of the children, too! She'd said too much already. The girls had paid them no attention, absorbed in their game; Li'l Eric, of course, had taken it all in. It made her nervous. Like a sponge, he was—such an observant child, always wide-eyed, always watching.
"Come inside, sweetie," she said. "We can play a card game. Mommy needs a break."
He followed her into the house.
"My, but I'm parched! I think I'll have a glass of cold lemonade. How about you, sweetie? Would you like one too?"
"It's all right to thank people if they do something for you," she said while she filled their glasses. "That isn't what we meant by not talking to them. We just don't want you having a conversation with them. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Mommy." He hesitated. "Mommy?"
"What is it, sweetie?"
"The man, the one who threw me the ball… I think his name is Jay."
"How do you know that?"
Li'l Eric looked alarmed. "I heard the other man call him that," he explained.
She must have spoken curtly, with an edge to her voice. "It's not nice listening in on other people's conversations," she said gently.
"I wasn't trying to listen. They were talking loud."
"Just keep away from them, okay? Pretend they're not there. Let's forget about it now. It isn't important. What game do you want to play? Rummy? Go Fish?"
Liv handed him the lemonade while he tried to make up his mind. "That's a very full glass I gave you," she said. "You be very careful carrying it into the living room, okay? I'll go get the cards. You see what I meant about them not being nice people?"
Li'l Eric nodded gravely, but she could tell he had no idea what she was talking about.
To purchase, click https://spsilverpublishing.com/almas-will-ebook-p-1468.html
Monday, May 13, 2013
Sometimes funny, sometimes tragic and often bawdy, Lola Dances by Victor J Banis ranges from the 1850 slums of the Bowery to the mining camps of California and Montana, to the Barbary Coast of San Francisco. Little Terry Murphy, pretty and effeminate, dreams of becoming a dancer. Raped by a drunken profligate and threatened with prison, Terry flees the Bowery and finds himself in the rugged settlement of Alder Gulch, where he stands out like a sore thumb among the camp's macho inhabitants--until the day he puts on a dress and dances for the unsuspecting miners as beautiful Lola Valdez--and wins fame, fortune and, ultimately, love.
In this excerpt, the young street tough, Tom Finnegan, has rescued Terry from the drunken profligate pursuing him. He takes him “home,” to his living quarters in the Bowery.
MLR Press (February 10, 2008)
Where Tom took him was the cellar of an abandoned tenement building. The surface of the nearby river was red with the descending sun. They climbed through a window that had been boarded up, but Tom pulled the boards easily aside and slipped through. He motioned Terry to follow him, and pulled the boards back into place when they were inside.
Although it was still daylight outside, the basement was in near darkness. Terry stood for a bit, allowing his eyes to adjust to the gloom. What he saw, finally, were makeshift living quarters: a moldy mattress on the floor, a box for a table with a candle atop it, and some scattered tins of food and a couple of apples. The place smelled of mildew and rotted garbage and excrement.
"Is this…?" Terry started to ask, and hesitated.
"I live here," Tom said. He followed Terry's gaze about the room, seeming to see it through Terry's eyes. "It ain't much, is it? But I've lived in worse, I can tell you. Anyway, nobody'll find you here. You're safe with old Tom Finnegan, as safe as in your mother's arms. As long as you want to stay."
"But…I can't stay here," Terry said.
Tom's smile faded and he looked crestfallen, but Terry, still looking around the cellar, missed that.
"No, course not," Tom said. "I expect you're used to lots better. This ain't exactly Fifth Avenue, is it?"
"Oh, I'm not used to that either, that's not what I meant," Terry said quickly, apologetically. "It's just, well, what about my things? And I've got my lessons. Besides, my brother wouldn't like it if he knew."
"Yes. Well." Tom kind of shrugged. "Are you hungry. I've got them apples, and there's a can of beans I haven't finished, if you'd like the rest of them. Go on, sit down, why don't you?"
He motioned to the tattered mattress. A large brown rat had crept onto it and Tom gave him a swift kick. Squealing, the rat vanished into the shadows.
Terry sat a bit gingerly and raised up the next moment to look at the cards he'd sat on, several decks, maybe four or five of them.
"I'm learning to play cards. To make money," Tom said, scooping them out of the way. "I plan to be a professional."
"A card sharp, you mean?" Terry said.
"They ain't a lot of jobs open for a fellow like me," Tom said a bit defensively.
"Oh, I didn't mean to sound like a prig."
"Here," Tom said, and thrust one of the apples at him.
Terry took it and looked at it, but it looked perfectly fine, and he was hungry, now that he thought of it. He rubbed it quickly on his shirtsleeve and bit into it. "It's delicious," he said.
"I steal them," Finnegan said, looking altogether too proud of himself, Terry thought. "I'm good at it. That's how come I think I can get good enough with the cards, if I keep practicing. It's all in the hands. That's how they do it, the good ones. Look."
He took one of the decks and riffled through it, the cards flying so fast in his fingers they were no more than a blur. "Here, take a card," he said. "Any card, and look at it and remember it."
Terry did as he was instructed. It was the Ace of Hearts. "Now, stick it back in the deck, anywhere you like. And," Tom shuffled the cards again, screwed up his face in concentration, cut the deck, and turned one half over, to reveal the Ace of Hearts.
"That's…that's amazing," Terry said. "How did you do that?"
"I told you, it's all in the hands," Tom said, pouting his muscled chest like a pigeon. He looked at the card he'd revealed. "The old Ace of Hearts. Hah. That says something, me boy-o."
"What's that mean?" Terry asked.
"Love," Tom said. "Major heart stuff, real close, close enough you could just about…" he caught himself and gave his head a shake. "Oh, shoot, that's just some old gypsy blarney, reading the cards, it don't amount to a hill of beans, really."
For a moment, their eyes met, and it seemed as if something, some invisible current, passed between them. Terry had an urge, it swept through him, to lean forward, across the short distance that separated them, to come closer—but, for what? He remembered the feel of Tom's body atop his earlier in the alley, the warmth that had radiated from him, and now he saw in Tom's eyes that strange hunger he thought he had detected before.
"You're going to be a dancer, ain't that so?" Tom asked, breaking the spell. "That's what you're doing at that theater, ain't it?"
"Yes. I was going to be, anyway, before all this. Oh, I don't know, it was just a dream. I suppose they don't matter."
"We all have 'em. Least I do. Mine's gettin' rich from playing cards. I'll make it, too. And so will you, I bet."
Terry sighed. "Sometimes, at night, when I'm asleep, I have this other dream, a different kind of dream. The same one, over and over. I'm walking down this road, toward a city, a secret place, it seems like, hidden behind these great walls, and there are all these other people walking toward it too, and everyone keeps going faster and faster, and me too, until I am practically running, only, I don't know what it is I'm running to, I just know there is something waiting there for me, and I can't wait to get to it."
He had been speaking as if to himself, but now he blinked and looked at Tom. "I guess that sounds like a bunch of nonsense, doesn't it?"
"It sounds beautiful to me," Tom said, looking impressed. He gave a deprecating laugh. "All's I ever dream about when I'm sleeping is something to eat."
Terry moved his arm, and winced.
"What's wrong?" Tom asked quickly, all concern.
"Van Arndst hit me a good one back there, with his walking stick." Terry felt cautiously at his shoulder and winced again.
"Here, you better let me have a look at it, then," Tom said. "Take that shirt off, why don't you, and let's see what's what."
Terry hesitated for a moment. "Come on, then, off with it," Tom said, and he looked so serious and so concerned, Terry swallowed his shyness and did as he was told, slipping his torn shirt off.
Tom moved closer to him, put his hands on Terry's shoulder and felt it gingerly. To Terry's surprise, his big, callused hands were astonishingly gentle.
"There, is it?" Tom asked and Terry nodded mutely.
Tom felt around some more, lifted Terry's arm up and brought it back down. "Well, it's good and bruised, that's for sure," he said. "It'll hurt for a bit. Don't look like nothing's broke, though."
They sat for a moment longer. Tom had not taken his hand away. It rested lightly on Terry's shoulder, and Terry realized that Tom was looking at him that way again, only more intently than ever, as if there was something he was dying to say, and was afraid to voice it. In a way, it was how Martin Van Arndst had looked at him, but it was different, too. What had been in Van Arndst's eyes had been hard and cruel, and the light in Tom's was much softer, gentler, and Terry fancied he could see something else in it, too, like a silent, eager plea. Terry's face turned pink.
"I like it when you blush like that," Tom said. That only made the pink deepen to scarlet, which seemed to amuse Tom all the more. He grinned from ear to ear, as if Terry had just performed some clever trick for his amusement.
It was cold in the basement and without his shirt on, even colder. A gust of wind blew through a broken window. Terry gave a shiver. When he exhaled, his breath made a little cloud.
"Say, I'm forgetting my manners," Tom said, business like all of a sudden. "It's cold in this place. I ain't got nothing to start a fire, either. Here. Let me warm you up."
He pulled Terry close, against his own body, and put his arms about him. It felt to Terry as if the other boy's body had the heat of a blast furnace, it all but burned his skin, and penetrated clear through him. He couldn't remember anyone's ever holding him like this—Van Arndst, the swine, had held him when he attacked him, but not like this, tight but gentle too at the same time. Tom's hands moved caressingly up and down Terry's naked back, like he was petting him.
"You could stay for the night, anyway," Tom said, and his man's voice was suddenly a little boy's, very shy and tremulous. "Just to be safe. Ain't got no blankets and no heat, but it'll be warm enough, if we…well…we can keep one another warm, can't we? Sleep close, like? I'll bet you wouldn't be cold at all if I was to keep my arms around you, all night, even, I'd be glad to. Warm and safe, is what old Tom promises you. If you was wanting to stay."
Only, Terry didn't feel at all sure he would be safe with Tom Finnegan, the way Tom promised. He wasn't sure he understood exactly what the danger was, but the quickening of his heart told him that Tom Finnegan's arms might not be the best place for him to spend a night.
"No, I think I'd better go," he said. He struggled to get to his feet. Tom's arms fell away.
"Suit yourself, then. Only, not home, I don't advise," Tom said, in his more manly voice, standing too, brushing some dirt off the front of his still dirty pants. "I doubt that would be smart. I think you'll have to go to your brother, regardless. He'll know what to do, at least. Van Arndst is vermin, but he's a rich man, and powerful. Them kind can be dangerous, to them like us especially."
Terry sighed. Tom was right. There was nowhere else for him to turn, and even if there weren't that other thing between them that he didn't understand, he couldn't very well stay here, could he? It looked like Tom was barely taking care of himself. How could he expect Tom to take care of him?
"I couldn't ask you to take care of me," he voiced his thoughts aloud.
Tom smiled, shy again. "I'd be proud to," he said, in something of a mumble that Terry could only just hear. "I'd like it, if you was to know the truth. You look to me like someone as needs a man to take care of him."
Terry remembered of a sudden the few coins he had in his pocket, the last of Van Arndst's money.
"Oh, say, I've got some money," he said. "Let me pay you for that apple, at least."
He took the coins out of his pocket and held them in his hand, palm up, toward Tom. "If you want," he started to say, but Tom looked so offended and glowered at him so intensely that Terry dropped the coins back into his pocket and offered his empty hand instead. "I can't tell you how grateful I am, for all you did."
Tom took hold of Terry's hand, but he didn't immediately let go of it. He swallowed noisily and took a step closer, so close that Terry fancied he could again feel the heat radiating from his body. He looked suddenly determined, as if he had made up his mind to something.
"Listen, before you go, if you was of a mind…well, we could…" he stammered, "I never said nothing like this before, never to nobody, but, since I been seeing you…well, I kind of been wanting to…I mean, not just anybody, is what I mean to say…"
He lost his courage at that point, though. It was his turn to blush, something Terry would never have imagined the tough boy doing. He left unsaid what it was he wanted and let go of Terry's hand abruptly, and backed away again. "I'll take you to your brother's," he said instead in a gruff voice.
"I can find my way," Terry said, his own feelings awhirl as well, and put his torn shirt back on, but Tom gave him a derisive look.
"You need a man to look after you," he said again, firmly, "is my opinion. I think it's lots better if I was to take you. Come on."
When he put his hand on Terry's backside, to boost him out the window, Terry felt as if he had been touched with a white hot branding iron.
The hand did not linger. The memory of it did, though. Terry could still feel it all the way to Brian's, as real as if Tom still had his hand there.
The river had turned black. They said almost nothing on their way. The clatter of an elevated train on Third Street seemed unnaturally loud in their silence. Tom actually seemed to be angry about something. A couple of times, he brushed his hand surreptitiously down across the front of his trousers, but Terry was afraid to look to see what he was pushing at, and kept his eyes stubbornly away.
When he had delivered him to Brian's door, Tom said, gruffly, his eyes down on his scuffed shoes, "You know where I live, then. Just in case you should ever, you know. It ain't much, but…" He shrugged and left the rest of it unsaid, and walked quickly away.
Terry pushed his glasses up and watched him until he had disappeared around a corner, without looking back.
To read more from Lola Dances, see the excerpts from 2/11/08 and 1/14/13.
To purchase the ebook, click http://www.mlrbooks.com/Bookstore.php?bookid=LOLA0001 (MLR Books) or http://www.amazon.com/Lola-Dances-ebook/dp/B004HD5YHA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1358031304&sr=8-2&keywords=lola+dances (Amazon)
To purchase the paperback, click
http://www.amazon.com/Lola-Dances-Victor-J-Banis/dp/1934531421/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1358031304&sr=8-1&keywords=lola+dances (Amazon) or http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/lola-dances-victor-j-banis/1100069964?ean=9781934531426
(Barnes & Noble)
and soon to be available as an audio book!
Monday, May 6, 2013
Mick reminds us that once upon a time, bookstores were everywhere. They were very numerous in New York City, some neighborhoods even boasting ten or twenty. In Greenwich Village, the East Village, the Upper West Side, and in between, they sometimes stood side by side, and people flocked in to read and buy books. Books were a way of life to many of us, but that’s all gone now. Some claim they‘re “reading” when they read Kindles or Nooks. But is electronic reading the same as reading a real book, holding it, turning its pages, caressing the story word by word, really getting into the grit of the writer’s work? "I think not," says Mick, "we’ve lost some of the wonder that comes from a story on a printed page, giving it up to electronics, the wave of the future, the wave of the NOW! Sadly, I am a Kindle reader, as well."
The Bookstore Clerk by Mykola Dementiuk is a story of a bookstore clerk in the late 1960s, a lover of books; nothing profound or romantic about it, just one guy getting by as best he could. You could say that books saved him.
The Bookstore Clerk
At Doubleday’s I was the first stock boy in that morning; salesgirl Connie let me in, frowning at me as I passed though the revolving doors.
"Good morning,” I said to her.
She sneered at me.
“What’s so good about it?”
We looked at each other but I didn’t say anything and went to the basement stockroom/loading area. The hell with Connie, I thought, she’s a frustrated slut anyway. I shrugged and got her out of my thoughts.
Danny was in right after me, but he kept yawning and could hardly keep his eyes open. I knew that he’d sleep off his hangover as he’d done many times before. He collapsed into a chair and let his head drop forward.
A few times me or Danny, who finally got out of his chair, answered calls for some book that someone wanted and we sent it up on the dumbwaiter. At other times a clerk would come downstairs and get herself a book; it was an easy way to take a break from the selling floor while sneaking in a cigarette.
“You know, I’m going to be a bookstore clerk one day,” I blurted out to Danny when we were alone.
He sneered and made a face.
“What the hell for?” he said, shaking his head. “You ain’t going to get me up there. Nosirree. Anyway, what makes you think they’ll let you up there? You’re a stock boy, accept it.”
I shook my head.
“Mr. Jennings said he was going to help me,” I said, nodding my head but I knew I had already said too much.
“Mr. Jennings? That faggot, he wants only one thing, your dick. What have you got to do with him?” He grinned lecherously. “Or have you two already done it, you pussy?”
The phone rang and I reddened, grabbing it. A bookstore clerk spouted out a title and I went to get it, Danny smiling wickedly after me and shaking his head. When I sent the book upstairs, Danny still was grinning and shaking his head.
“I always knew that you were one of them, a pussy faggot.”
“Fuck you!” I spat out. But then I said, “So what if I am? I don’t want to stay in this grubby old stockroom. You want to call me a faggot for that? Good, that’s what I am, but you’ll be in this stockroom for the rest of your life. Me? I’m going where I belong, up on top.” I folded my arms and stood looking at him.
“Faggot,” he simply repeated, leering at me. “Cocksucking faggot.”
We heard heels on the steps; we both looked, it was Connie.
“Hey Connie, what you think about the new bookstore clerk? He said he’s going to work with you, you ready for another sissy up there?”
Connie scowled, staring at me.
“Stop calling people names. You’ve been warned about that.” She turned to me. “Anyway, all the positions are taken. We don’t need anyone else.”
“He said Mr. Jennings will help him. I wonder what he’s doing for Mr. Jennings,” and he winked at Connie.
I was very red-faced, as Connie shook her head.
“I only said that one day I might. What’s the point of working here in the basement if you can’t move up?”
“That’s right, get yourself an older sugar daddy like Mr. Jennings and bend over. He’ll have you in a nice position, if you know what I mean.”
“Fuck you, you idiot!” I spat.
“Faggot!” Danny responded, sneering at me.
Connie shook her head again and went back upstairs.
“Fuck you, you motherfucker!” I spat at him.
It was 5:30 in the afternoon, near closing time anyway.
Miss Terri, a short-haired, neck-tied woman in a masculine suit, stood reading some papers in the outer office. She glanced at me as I stepped out of the elevator. In her manly clothes and appearance, she made it evident that she was a bitter, unfriendly lesbian. I always dreaded running into her. She was known facetiously and quietly as “Mrs. Doubleday,” though no one dared say it aloud. She looked at me, shaking her head and sneering.
“Good,” she said to the secretary. “Just get rid of those commas.” The secretary made a disappointed face as Miss Terri turned to me and said, “come this way.” I followed her into an office overlooking Fifth Avenue.
“You wear T-shirts to work,” she said sternly, “with dungarees?”
“For downstairs I do, they all wear them. I hardly ever come upstairs, unless I have to take something up.”
“What makes you think you’ll fit in? Do you have dress clothes, like a suit and tie, so you can look presentable?”
“Yes ma’am, they’ll be ready when I need them. I can be ready in a few days, just give the word,” and I smiled at her.
Her face remained immobile, looking at the papers on her desk.
“You worked for a short time at Scribner’s and Brentano’s, is that right?”
“Stop with the ma’ams!” she flared, “Just say yes or no!”
I nodded, very uneasy.
“Yes, but I’ve been here a year and a few months. I can do a very good job, I know I can. I just need a break.”
She glanced again at the paper.
“We don’t have anything right now. The economy is sluggish. But when it picks up we’ll call you. Oh, how much do you make, $1.25 an hour?” she looked at her paper. “You’re overdue for a raise, $1.30 an hour.” She wrote something down. “Thank you for stopping by. Good day.”
I was stunned. Mr. Jennings’s confidence that I could do well meant nothing to her. I looked at her, stood up and staggered from her office. I saw Connie talking with the secretary. She looked at me, smirked, and went into Miss Terri’s office.
“Stinkin’ bitch!” I muttered as I waited for the elevator doors to shut; the secretary looked up at me.
As I got out of the elevator, I saw that Mr. Jennings was waiting for me in the basement. He saw my downcast appearance. I heard Danny laughing across the room.
“Come with me,” said Timmy. He led me out of Doubleday’s and across the street to the outer waterfall lobby of 666 Fifth Avenue. It had the exclusive restaurant Top of the Sixes, with its panoramic views of New York. I stood downcast at the waterfall.
“I didn’t get it,” I sulked, shrugging like it didn’t mean anything, “The bookseller’s job, I mean.”
But Timmy shook his head, as if he knew differently.
“For now you didn’t get it, but this afternoon I have a meeting with Mr. Simmons, one of Doubleday’s top publishing people. We’ll be discussing just that, the operation and staffing of the bookstore. Don’t be upset, a good word from him will put it motion. Things are spinning right now as we speak.”
“But Miss Terri won’t let it happen. I just saw Connie going in her office. She’ll also tell her she’s against it.”
“Oh bosh, of course they’re against it. Those two lesbian creeps are always against what a man comes up with.”
I looked at him.
“Connie’s a lesbian? I didn’t know.”
“Uh huh, and she’s Terri’s lover. They live together. Down in Greenwich Village.”
“Wow, so why are they against us?” I lowered my voice, looking around at people walking by the waterfall. “Queers and lesbians who like each other just like they do?”
He sighed and rubbed his face.
“If I knew that, the world would be a better place, wouldn’t it? But that’s the way things stand between us; nothing’s any different than it ever was. You just have to stand up and fight, not let them get away with even the slightest bit, because they’ll only take and take until there’s nothing left.” He sighed again. “Let’s go back. Face the monsters, because we’re better than them.” He put his arm around my shoulder. “We’ll know for certain by this afternoon.”
I looked up at him. God, I wished we weren’t with so many people on crowded 5th Avenue. I would have kissed him. I nodded and we started across the busy, traffic-filled avenue.
To purchase, click http://www.jms-books.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=29&products_id=715
Monday, April 29, 2013
Sometimes love is stronger than death.
In Beyond Love by J A Harmon, former foster child Gabriel Jacobs is determined to make something of his life. Easygoing and more comfortable in a pair of old sweats than the Brooks Brothers suits he will have to wear when he finishes his law degree, Gabriel is also a naïve romantic looking for love. That turns out to be a problem when the ghost of Adrien Beauchene, the son of a French plantation owner, makes an appearance in the house Gabriel just moved into. Adrien is convinced Gabriel is the reincarnation of his slave turned lover, a man he has spent 160 years waiting for.
Before long, Adrien gains control of Gabriel. He vows not to be parted from his love again, even if that means Gabriel must join him in the spirit world. But Gabriel’s best friend, Scott, won’t give up without a fight. He enlists the help of a gypsy witch and twin warlocks Jaivyn and Jaquan to keep Gabriel safe. As Adrien tightens his grip, Gabriel begins to fade, and Jaivyn grows desperate. He and Gabriel just met—Jaivyn can’t lose him now….
Dreamspinner Press (February 8, 2013)
In two weeks, Gabriel still has not ventured upstairs, probably because he believes that is where the ghost spends the majority of its time. Gabriel leaves the bedroom and looks around the front room, trying to decide what he should do. He knows he needs to get back to his old routine of taking a late-afternoon jog. It helps relax him, and he sleeps much better, but he hasn’t quite figured out the best route to take in his new neighborhood. New Orleans’ streets and sidewalks are not known for their easy passage. The sidewalks are uneven at best. In many places, the concrete has been uprooted by the large live oak trees surviving Hurricane Katrina, and the ghosts of those which did not survive. The streets are definitely not conducive to running; also uneven, the traffic is unpredictable at best. A city boasting drive-through daiquiri stands is not the best place to mix automobile and pedestrian traffic.
When he’d lived uptown at the Rat House, he would jog up and down St. Charles Avenue on the neutral ground, the narrow stretch of ground between traffic. Other than having to pause for cross traffic and occasionally moving out of the way of an oncoming streetcar, it was fairly safe. St. Charles is probably the most famous New Orleans neutral ground, because it is also the home of the Saint Charles Streetcar line. The streetcars are still the same green and brown wooden electrical cable cars that have run the tracks for over a hundred years. He has noticed several people jogging up and down the neutral ground on Elysian Fields and Esplanade. Gabriel decides he should go for a walk today and explore a potential jogging route.
He quickly changes into a pair of Ole Miss basketball shorts and T-shirt, puts on his Nike cross-trainers, grabs his keys, and heads out the door. He walks down Dauphine and turns west toward Elysian Fields Avenue. A mixture of Creole cottages and shotgun houses line both sides of the street. Most of them sit directly on the narrow walkway, but a few have small front yards or porches. It is easy to see the vibrant color this street once had, but now it appears faded, muted, and run-down. The sidewalks and streets are pitted, potted, and uneven. Broken shells, used here in addition to the normal gravel, poke through the asphalt and concrete. Some of the buildings, primarily those on the corners, rise to more than two levels. Many of these were once stores, bars, churches, and hotels. New Orleans is a city of bars and churches. Every major intersection seems to house one or the other, sometimes both.
After a few minutes, he arrives at the much wider avenue, Elysian Fields, named for the Champs-Elysées of Paris. He crosses to the neutral ground, which has served as a canal and a railroad during its varied history, and is now an avenue. The neutral ground here is wider than many, and once thickly lined with mature live oak trees, it has now been replanted with newer trees. Even in the coldest months of winter, the live oak wears its blanket of green leaves. Although they may reach great heights, they do not aspire to scrape the heavens like so many other trees. They are content to remain close to the earth. It is a live oak’s desire to cover and canopy those people who seek its shade, listening to their stories and holding their secrets within the thick coarse bark. Occasionally the older ones even reach down and touch the ground, resting their weary limbs upon the cool earth, providing the perfect place for climbing, sitting, courting, laughing, or crying. Katrina wreaked her havoc on these native New Orleanians, but now new growth springs forth as people have replanted many of the lost trees.
The mid-October break in New Orleans’ normally oppressive humidity inspires Gabriel to pick up his pace, and before he knows what has come over him, he’s running freely down the avenue. He feels the tensions of the past few weeks gradually move down his body to his flailing arms. Problems fly from his fingertips. Troubles are crushed under his advancing feet. His muscles, which started to think they were no longer going to be used, realize retirement has not yet come, and start to do their job again. Within moments he feels the old familiar rush of endorphins finding their home within his brain and everything is good with the world. Gabriel travels north along the avenue until he reaches the noise and confusion of Interstate 10, which cuts like a razorblade through many of the old neighborhoods of New Orleans, entombing history in its cold concrete and forcing fast and furious upon slow and easy. He loops around and heads back toward the river, back toward the house on Dauphine.
Gabriel is in the upstairs room of the house on Dauphine, but it looks different. He lies naked and uncovered upon a bed in the attic. He faces an open window at the back of the house. The autumn breeze comes off the river, entering at the front of the house and drafting out the back. The sounds of the city mix with country sounds as cicadas sing their nighttime songs and horses clack along the cobblestone streets. Somewhere in the distance a baby cries, and a man raises his voice in anger.
He can also feel the warmth of lamplight and the presence of someone’s eyes on his bare back. As he rolls over, he meets the gaze of the man who stares at him. Adrien sits at a small table beside the bed, with the journal open and a pen in his hand. Adrien sees Gabriel is awake and closes the journal. His emerald-green eyes look piercingly into Gabriel’s own eyes. Gabriel recognizes the look of lust in those sparkling eyes. He has seen this look before, but he also sees a look of love, much deeper than longing and desire. He has never seen this look in another’s eyes, and has longed for it his entire life. Adrien remains motionless for a few seconds, and Gabriel has the opportunity to look upon his beauty. Adrien’s dark hair is pulled back from his face and tied in a ponytail hanging over his left shoulder, landing slightly above the darkened olive skin surrounding his nipple.
Gabriel is struck by the intensity of those green eyes, made even more lustrous by the long feathery lashes and dark, full eyebrows. Adrien’s brow is high and smooth, matched by strong cheekbones and a long angular jaw and nose. His face is a contrast of gentle smoothness and striking angular symmetry. As he rises from the seat, Gabriel can see Adrien is not only naked from the waist up, but also from the waist down. Gabriel is so taken by the beauty of his body he quickly draws a breath. It is not an overly developed body, but rather sinewy in appearance. The shoulders are broad and taper down to a thin waist. The perfect balance of his face is repeated by his body. The collar bone is somewhat pronounced as it gives rise to muscular pectorals, and is mirrored by the pelvic bones. Other than his head, forearms, and a shadow of a beard, his body is hairless above the waist. His muscular thighs are sparsely covered with hair, which grows denser as it moves down his shapely calves to thin ankles. A patch of darker hair, as dense as the hair upon his head, is gathered at his crotch, out of which rises his already semierect penis. It is an endowment which rivals Gabriel’s own, although Adrien is not circumcised.
Adrien moves to the bed and gently lies down atop Gabriel. They fit together in an almost perfect match. Gabriel feels breath upon his neck, and then tender kisses flutter along his skin like a delicate flower. Both sides of his neck are covered by these kisses, until finally those full, robust lips come to meet his own. He can feel the push of Adrien’s tongue as he parts his lips and explores the inside of his mouth. Gabriel closes his eyes and luxuriates in the feeling of Adrien’s weight upon his body and the invasion of his mouth. Adrien pulls his mouth away, and continues lightly kissing Gabriel’s chest, pausing at each nipple, tenderly nibbling the little mounds of flesh. Tingling radiates throughout Gabriel’s nerves, directly connecting with his groin as he feels himself beginning to rise. Adrien continues his exploration of Gabriel’s body until Gabriel lets out a gasp as Adrien takes him into his mouth. Gabriel tries to move his arms, but Adrien holds each of his hands firmly to the bed. He continues to feel himself grow longer and thicker as Adrien moves faster and tighter, taking all of him then withdrawing until he is almost freed from those lips, then down again. Gabriel can feel the muscles in his abdomen begin to contract and the pressure within him begins to rise. He knows he is close, but Adrien does not relent.
Gabriel opens his eyes and realizes he is no longer in the upstairs room, but back in his bedroom downstairs. He is disoriented because he can still feel Adrien devouring him, and knows he is approaching orgasm. He finally gives into the pressure building within him, and looks down his body at the same time. The covers are pulled off the bed. In the faint light from the open bathroom door, he can make out at the thin outline of a man lying between his legs. As he erupts in orgasm, he clearly sees the face from his dream looking up toward him. The face slowly fades like a picture developing in reverse, until only the faint glow of the negative remains, but the eyes are the last to fade. In those eyes, Gabriel sees the same longing and love he witnessed in his dream.
He lies there, unsure of what he is feeling. His mind tells him the experience should terrify him. He should feel somehow violated, but does not. He only feels exhausted and drained, but he also feels… loved.
To purchase paperback, click http://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Love-J-A-Harmon/dp/1623803411/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1367101093&sr=1-1
To purchase ebook, click
J.A. Harmon has always immersed himself in a spiritual and magical world. The son of a preacher man, he often found himself moving to new places. His only constant friends were the characters in the books he read and the stories he would write. J.A.’s creative writing took a side trip as he travelled down a road of self-discovery, which led him to religious education and law. He finally reunited with the friends of his childhood when life presented an opportunity to create stories once again. New friends emerged and old friends returned, taking new life in historic New Orleans, where J.A. lived for ten years.
J.A. currently lives in Louisville, Kentucky, the city of his birth, with a roommate and three cats (Momow, Bubby, Mikey and Ally—you decide who is whom). He currently supports his writing as an attorney, insurance agent, marketing consultant, and copy editor
Monday, April 22, 2013
In this excerpt from Switch Hitter by Alex Morgan and Jon Michaelsen, top ranked MLB player, Jase Dockery, was having a record-breaking year until a sluggish bat threatens to derail his streak. To the world, Jase is a national hero, but the handsome MVP has a deep secret.
To rid his inner turmoil, Jase agrees to a tryst with a dominant S.W.A.T captain in a discreet location arranged by an enigmatic madam. Despite his apprehension, Jase releases himself to Cap for a night of unbridled revelry.
His mood elevated the next day at practice, all Jase can think of is another rendezvous with Cap, but a stalking fan derails the ball player’s anticipation and hides him in a lake cabin outside Atlanta.
Jase wakes gagged and bound with no idea what he’s in for. His captor, Daniel, has plans to keep the slugger that have nothing to do with money. Sure his handlers are out searching for him along with police; Jase hopes they are able to locate him in time.
Can the smitten S.W.A.T captain rescue Jase from humiliation via live webcam without risking coming out to his comrades? Or will Jase help breach that wall for him?
loveyoudivine Alterotica (April 18, 2013)
Jase swallowed hard and counted to ten before taking a breath. Jesus Christ! He expected his subjugator to bust him over the head, take his wallet and bike, but nothing happened.
“I…look, I’m sorry, man,” Jase said. “Just forget it, all right? I made a mistake.” He flinched as an arm slipped higher around his chest. “I really need to go now.”
The man leaned in close to his ear, breathing against his neck. “Are you sure you don’t want to stay? I’m horny as hell tonight and you’re precisely what I need. Lady Velvet has never disappointed me. Anonymity is as important to me as it is to you, she assured.”
Jase didn’t answer with his lips as much as in the thickening of cock. Tendrils of lusciousness rose from the base of his balls and surged through his abdomen. He glanced down at the hand covering his left, at the thick fingers that clamped over his own. Lady Velvet had said the man was a cop, a S.W.A.T. officer at that. What luck!
Fighting off fear, Jase found his voice. “I-I’m not sure this is a good idea,” he said, still feeling uneasy. The man’s hand moved up to caress his chest, fingers tweaking his hard tits. Jase held his breath, ready to drop his load right there on the bike without shedding his clothes.
“My friends call me Cap.” The tip of a moist tongue slid up the base of Jase’s neck as the man’s hand settled on his crotch and squeezed hard. “I hear you’ve been a real dick lately and need some attitude adjustment.”
Those final words sealed the deal. Concern and fear evaporated in the hotness churning between them. Jase wanted nothing more than to lose himself in the arms of this beast, captain of a S.W.A.T team.
Jase dismounted his motorcycle and faced Cap. His heart skipped and his breath caught in his throat. The mustachioed face, more handsome than any professional athlete or model, stared back at him. The brown eyes seemed to draw him in, engulfing his vision. He couldn’t look away, didn’t want to look away. Cap's torso seemed to explode out of his narrow waist. His T-shirt stretched across a huge muscular chest.
The gorgeous specter smiled and Jase’s legs nearly buckled.
“Let’s see what Lady Velvet has in store for us.” Cap draped an arm around Jase’s shoulders and led him to the elevator.
To purchase, click http://www.loveyoudivine.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=118_114&products_id=1113
Monday, April 15, 2013
It's not often one has the chance to become 20 again...
A World Ago by Dorien Grey chronicles, through one young man's journal and vivid letters to his parents, his life, adventures, and experiences at a magical time. It follows him from being a Naval Aviation Cadet to becoming a “regular” sailor aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga on an eight-month tour of duty in the politically tense Mediterranean Sea.
Learn to fly a plane, to soar, alone, through a valley of clouds, experience a narrow escape from death on a night training flight, and receive the continent of Europe as a 21st birthday gift. Climb down into the crater of Mt. Vesuvius, visit Paris, Cannes, Athens, Beirut, Valencia, Istanbul and places in-between; wander the streets of Pompeii, have your picture taken on a fallen column on the Acropolis, ride bicycles on the Island of Rhodes, experience daily life aboard an aircraft carrier during the height of the cold war—all in the company and through the eyes of a young will-be-writer coming of age with the help of the United States Navy.
A World Ago is a rare glimpse into the personal and private world of a young man on the verge of experiencing everything the world has to offer—and discovering a lot about himself in the process.
A World Ago: Letters Home, 1954-1956
Untreed Reads (April 8, 2013)
21 November 1955
Several entries in this journal have begun “Nothing new today,” or words to that effect—I would rather have every day like that than one like tonight!
The movie on the mess deck was Houdini—the story of the great magician. I was sitting crouched on my chair, the better to see over the heads of the guys in front of me. About two hundred other guys were seated on benches, chairs, or the hard steel deck, or standing in the back. The movie was approaching its climax when suddenly the squawk box blared: “Man Overboard—Port Side!” The ship swung so sharply and suddenly to starboard that benches and chairs toppled and everyone was forced to the side of the hall. The lights came on almost immediately, and everyone began filing from the room, with much confusion. I saw one of the cooks and asked where we were to go—he said we had to muster on the hanger deck; that is the only way they could tell who it was who had gone over.
The scene on the hanger deck was one of mass confusion. Many planes were parked about, and guys were running every which way, getting to their stations. A jet was on the number two elevator, evidently just being lowered—I noticed it was a very dark night—the kind of blackness found only on the ocean. An officer came running across the hanger deck, yelling for guys to push the jet off the elevator and onto the hanger deck.
Since only cooks muster on the hanger deck and mess cooks muster on the mess decks, I went below. A few moments later Nick came down, looking very pale. I asked him what was wrong. He said “You can’t walk on the flight deck without slipping.”
A jet, coming in for a landing, had missed all the barriers and smashed into a group of guys preparing to launch planes—no one knew how many were dead, or how many had been thrown over the side. The bodies were scattered all over the flight deck, all dismembered. They’d started bringing them down on the elevator just after I’d left.
No one knows yet how many are gone—we’re missing two mess cooks (guys sometimes go up to the flight deck to watch operations). Six bodies were brought down, with God knows how many injured.
Sick Bay has been calling for blood donors; there is blood in the passageways leading to Sick Bay. As I am writing this, a call came to the Commissary Office to open the Garbage Disposal room so that the stretchers can be washed. The Reefers (Refrigeration Rooms) have been opened to receive the bodies. As the muster was called, I looked at the faces around me—all silent, some very pale; a few smoked cigarettes, others looked around as each name was called, wondering who would not answer. Something I will not soon forget.
Rumors and scuttlebutt will sweep the ship for days, but we will never be told how many went over the side, or how many more died. It may be in the stateside papers, but I doubt it.
And just a few moments ago, the squawk box announced, as it has hundreds of times during flight operations: “The smoking lamp is out while fueling aircraft.”
The doctor was just in, asking for keys to the Reefers again—“We found some more gear belonging to one of them—we don’t know which one.” A destroyer just came alongside with the pilot of the plane—other destroyers are busy searching for others. Let’s hope they are all found.
I could go on, but somehow I just don’t feel like it….
Another call just came for O-blood; at least thirty guys are standing in line, from seamen to Commanders. People can be marvelous beings…. To purchase, click http://store.untreedreads.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=80&products_id=916
Monday, April 8, 2013
In the Garnets of Destiny 1, the first volume in the Gemstone Chronicles by Serena Yates, Zachary, abused for years by his adoptive parents, finally runs away. He knows he's safer on his own than in their so-called care. Homeless and desperate for money so he can put down a deposit for an apartment, he decides to sell the antique garnet ring his parents received from the mysterious Messenger at Zachary's birth.
Zohar Zyngold is crown prince of Zelaria, a world very similar to Earth in a parallel dimension. On his twenty-fifth birthday, during the traditional ceremony, the antique garnet ring his father passed on to him starts emitting an intense red light. Only finding the bearer of the matching ring that has been located on Earth will allow him to fully control his new paranormal powers. Using some of them to cross into Earth's dimension, he masquerades as a jeweler, hoping to attract the ring's owner.
Zachary and Zohar are not only attracted to each other when they first meet, their rings emit a deep red light when they touch. Zachary gets scared and runs, but criminals attack him...and Zohar when he tries to help. They flee to Zelaria to discover that their problems have only just begun…
Garnets of Destiny 1 (Gemstone Chronicles 1)
Diversity Novels (January 30, 2013)
Tulsa, Oklahoma, four years ago...
Zachary Brown watched the Chinese vase he'd been dusting fall toward the floor in mute horror. As if in slow motion, the colorful piece of valuable porcelain tumbled off the edge of the hallway table. Too late he attempted to catch it before it could crash on the unforgiving marble tiles gracing the entryway.
It broke into a thousand pieces with a clattering, crunching sound that accelerated his heartbeat and set his nerves on edge. The chunks seemed to chase each other as they spread across the floor, stretching the vase's material into a huge stain on the ground.
I'm in for it now.
Cringing, he raced into the kitchen to get the dustpan and brush, as well as a garbage bag. At least he had to make an attempt to clean up after himself. There was no hiding the mishap from his bossy adoptive mother, who kept assigning him household tasks because she enjoyed his discomfort. A cleaner came to the house twice a week, but Priscilla always found something for him to do anyway. She left all of the quite frequent punishments to his cruel adoptive father, who seemed to enjoy beating Zachary at every opportunity. Whether the man had an excuse or not didn't seem to matter.
Zachary ran back into the hallway and frantically started collecting the bigger pieces first. Once he'd put them into the bag, he started sweeping up the smaller ones and the fine dust. No way was he going to leave a mess; things would only be worse for him. They always did anyway so he sometimes wondered why he even kept trying. It was pathetic, but he wanted some sort of approval and recognition that he was what they wanted. He had done his best over the years, especially when he was younger, but nothing was ever enough.
"What was that?" Priscilla's voice always sounded a little slurred. She liked to indulge in the odd cocktail--except she was at it most of the day. If she didn't manage to be drunk by lunchtime, her mood became really bad.
"I'm sorry." He'd finished stage one of the cleanup and was about to get up to deposit the bag in the kitchen for inspection by his adoptive father.
"What did you do now?" Priscilla left the living room and walked up to him, her high heels click-clacking on the hard floor. Her eyes widened when she saw the now worthless shards. "You didn't!"
"I'm really sorry. I didn't mean to, I was dusting like you told me and it just... happened." He wanted to get up, feeling odd kneeling at her feet, but her angry stare told him he'd better stay where he was.
"You do know that this was one of the most valuable pieces in your father's collection, don't you?" Her lips curled up in a sneer as she brushed imaginary lint off her tight-fitting black suit. "Just this morning Raymond asked me to put it there so our guests at the dinner party tonight would be able to appreciate its beauty. Now your incompetence and clumsiness have ruined that idea. You deserve all the punishment you'll get, you little moron."
"But I didn't mean to." Zachary tried to swallow back the rising bile. His ass still hurt from last night's spanking. He wouldn't be able to stand another one. And Raymond was likely to use more than his hand for this severe a fuck-up.
"You never do. Even you couldn't be that stupid." Priscilla shook her head. "You better leave that on the kitchen table then go to your room. You'll have time to contemplate your sins before he gets home in about an hour."
God, he hated being locked up in there, but it was better than the dark closet they'd sent him to when they'd first adopted him seven years ago, a year after his real parents died. He'd been terrified to be left alone after that. To his seven-year-old mind they had died and left him behind, so isolation was the worst punishment for him. How Raymond and Priscilla had figured that out he'd never know. But then, he didn't understand why they'd adopted him in the first place. All they did was yell at him, use him as cheap labor in the house, and treat him as a punching bag for Raymond when the man flew into one of his rages. Maybe that was what they thought kids were for, but he hated it.
He'd try to run away once, when he was twelve. They'd caught him within hours and he'd spent the next two weeks in the hospital because he had 'fallen down the stairs'. The police had believed Raymond because he was some bigwig in Tulsa's Mayor's office. Zachary had learned his lesson. Next time he'd be better prepared. Now, at fifteen, he had a solid plan and was old enough to make a run for it.
"Yes, Mother." He hated that they made him pretend they were his real parents. But he had no way of fighting back. Not physically, since he wasn't exactly tall or built like the ex-linebacker Raymond was.
He did as he was told, making sure none of the hope for his future escape showed on his face. New determination coursed through him. Why hadn't he seen it before? The time had come for him to leave these people behind. When Priscilla had locked his door, he walked to his desk and got the laptop ready for transportation. He emptied his backpack of school books and stuffed some basic clothes in it, followed by a map of where he was going. He didn't dare open his secret hiding place under one of his floorboards yet. When it was time he'd get his fake ID--the one with his real last name--the money he had stashed there, and the garnet ring, the one thing he'd kept from before his parents' death. The risk of Raymond finding out what he was up to was too big. But he'd be quick once the man had left his room.
When he was done he flopped onto the bed and covered his head with a pillow in a futile attempt to hide from the world. At least his so-called mother's screeching opera didn't reach him this way.
Much less than an hour seemed to have passed when his lock turned and the door banged against the wall.
"What the fuck were you doing touching my vase? You know how valuable it was. The damned centerpiece to the entire collection and now you've ruined it." His father shut the door with another loud bang and stomped into the room. "Look at me when I talk to you, stupid boy."
Giving up his hiding place under the pillow was hard. He turned his head but didn't get up. What was the point? Raymond was still wearing his suit from work, and his face was red with anger. If looks could kill, Zachary would be dead right now. He lowered his gaze, not willing to face the fury.
Then he saw it. His father held one of the horse-whips in his shaking right hand, and that became all he could focus on. He must have gotten it from the stables. Paralyzed with dread for the repercussions of his latest transgression and his father's intentions, he stared at the whip and focused on breathing.
Whatever happened here today, this was the last time he'd submit to this man's violence. He did not deserve this, and it was not the life he wanted to live. The dinner party would keep his so-called parents busy and distracted and give him more time to get away.
This was it. After today, he was gone.
* * * *
Fargo, North Dakota, this year...
Zachary shivered in the icy January wind as he walked down Seventh Street South in Fargo, North Dakota, his secondhand boots barely keeping the snow at bay and his clothes too threadbare for real protection against the freezing temperatures. The city was no place to be in winter, but he'd fled here four years ago because his abusive adoptive parents would never look for him farther north than Tulsa. They knew how much he disliked the cold, so he'd hoped he would be safe. So far, they had not found him and though his life hadn't been easy, it was better than what he had endured in their so-called care.
Emily hadn't had much herself, but the old woman had found him begging for a job a few days after he'd stepped off the Greyhound bus. She'd taken him in because he reminded her of the grandson she'd lost to the war in Afghanistan. She had died six months ago and he had become homeless when her family mercilessly kicked him out, saying he had no right to live there.
Now he was at the end of his rope and looking for a jeweler to sell his ring, the last thing of value in his possession. He'd checked several of the downtown establishments but hadn't approached any of them yet. The one he planned to visit today was a little out of the way, but he'd had a good feeling about the place when he came around the first time.
He arrived at the quaint store with its huge windows and wooden shutters. The shop looked like an antique and seemed to specialize in older jewelry. No two pieces were alike and, like last time, he ended up staring at the beautifully crafted ankh ring in its dark green case situated front and center. The narrow gold band held an inlaid red garnet ankh that seemed to glow with life and the promise of a better world.
He snorted. Yeah, right!
He'd been surprised, not to say shocked, to find such an exact match to the one he wore on a golden chain around his neck. He'd stopped wearing it on his finger after several people had eyed it with obvious greed. He didn't want anyone to take it from him, and not just because of its monetary value.
The matching garnet ring in the window seemed to call to him with increasing intensity. Each time he came here the quiet appeal grew stronger. At the same time he could feel its loneliness; it matched his own lifelong understanding that he was an outcast. His so-called parents had set the tone, but none of the other people he had encountered were any different. Maybe initially, but not in the end.
He reached for the thin gold chain under his threadbare jacket, making sure the ring was still there. It had been his as long as he could remember. The mysterious stranger who had given it to his parents just after he was born had told them that it would protect Zachary. One day it was even supposed to reveal his destiny.
He snorted. The protection part hadn't really worked or else his life wouldn't be such a mess. He was going to do something about that. He was no longer going to live in some shelter for the homeless. Finding a job was essential, but first he needed somewhere to live so he'd have an address to put on his application forms.
Unfortunately, the only way that he was going to get any money for a rental deposit was to sell the ring. He didn't like that thought; a headache followed every time he pictured having to hand it over to some salesperson, never to see it again. But it had never protected him very well. So the second part of the stranger's promise, about the ring revealing his destiny, was surely equally untrue. Anyway, how could a ring, even a beautiful antique one, show him anything? On the other hand, it might just help him find his feet to start a new life--if he managed to sell it.
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