Exclusive Excerpt from Heart’s Thaw
by Bru Baker
by Bru Baker
Octavia Vargus had everything she wanted at Rowan House, Skye’s most exclusive pleasure house, except the one thing she craved. Longing for the freedom to explore both sides of her nature, she leaves Rowan House and her mistress, for a new start in Italy with her partner Bridget Murray.
Vivian Abiola is a connection to a past Octavia would like to forget, and a love she never expected to see again. After Octavia’s past relationship with Vivian is exposed, Octavia and Bridget explore the limits of their desires with Vivian. When an arsonist threatens to destroy their vineyard, past loyalties and secrets endanger their lives, and the three women’s relationship. Their love may be the only thing that helps them survive the firestorm of doubt, intrigue, and jealousy.
Available at: Amazon
by Alli Reshi
I watched the men carefully as they walked between the rows of people, trying to find anything distinctive about them. Something that would be helpful when backup inevitably arrived. You couldn’t close off a main bank and have no one notice. Zel started whimpering as yelling broke out between one of the patrons and a robber. He grew more hysterical, despite Alvia’s best efforts.
“Oi, shut that kid up,” another robber—slightly bulkier than his comrades—yelled. My quick hand to Mark’s shoulder was likely the only thing that kept him from retaliating. He settled with simply glaring at the other man. The rate at which the robbers gathered the valuables proved these were not amateurs, but it was my assumption that they were likely only gathering them for pocket change or to keep the hostages afraid.
I didn’t have anything more than my wallet, but I couldn’t speak for what Alvia and Mark had. Mark turned up his jacket collar to hide his mask, which would only look like a fancy bit of jewelry worn around his neck to these people. Though, in fact, it was a highly specialized device that would expand to shield his face and had a number of sensors, Mark’s mask also doubled as his communicator when needed. Alvia was desperately tucking a brooch under Zel’s shirt, having calmed him for the moment. Quite possibly, it was the most valuable thing she possessed.
“All right, hand it over,” one of the robbers demanded, shoving the decently full bag at us. I put my wallet in and turned out my pockets to show I didn’t have anything else. Holding Zel tight the whole time, Alvia took off the two rings from her fingers and the simple necklace she wore, along with the checkbook she had in her pocket.
“Oi, what about the kid. He hiding anything?” The robber loomed over the boy, who couldn’t handle the scrutiny and started crying again. “Shut up, brat.” The man aimed to swing at the woman and boy, but I pulled them away as Mark moved forward.
“Now, what kinda lowlife tries to hit a kid, huh? Didn’t your mama teach you any manners?” Mark sneered at the man hovering over him.
“Don’t you yap at me. I’m the one that’s about to get very rich while you lose it all. So shut up, or you’re next,” the robber growled, grabbing Mark under the jaw.
“Aw, Tiny has to yell so he can feel all big and strong. How cute,” Mark mocked as he pulled his wallet out of his pocket to throw at the idiot’s head. A punch to the gut sent Mark crumpling to the ground. Thankfully, the robber walked away, grumbling and leaving it at that. I held Alvia to my side as Mark slowly sat up.
“That was stupid! What were you thinking, Noland?” I hissed, glancing around to keep a head count of our captors.
Jaydon can’t afford to lose a bet he’s made, so when the sweet as sin Eluin offers him The Contract, it may be exactly what he needs. Or is it? Things get a little twisted with the cheeky demon being around.
The number of demons in Jaydon’s apartment grows, with Eluin’s big brother Eluel and his wayward lover Sam showing up. The couple is at a breaking point in their own on/off relationship and this time getting back together seems as probable as hell freezing over.
by Glenn Quigley
On his way to his favourite seat, Robin accidentally bumped into several different people, causing them to spill some of their drinks. This was typical of him. The slightest slip of his concentration and something was bound to hit the floor. He liked to chalk it up to him being far larger than the average Merryapple inhabitant, but everyone else knew it was just an innate clumsiness, which, after fifty years, he was clearly never going to grow out of. This tendency wasn’t helped by the floor of the inn, as it undulated like the sea outside. One could hardly walk ten paces before being forced to climb or descend some little cluster of steps or other.
At this time of the afternoon, the perfume of the inn was a weak accord of tobacco and beer, swirled with the soot of candle smoke. It would intensify as the day wore on. When he reached a seat by the grand fireplace, he ordered a bowl of hearty crab stew and crusty, buttered bread rolls, which he devoured while listening to the gossip and chatter of the tavern folk. No one attempted to make conversation with him.
The tavern had been made from the wreckage of the first ship that ran aground on Merryapple. The bar itself was imposing and dark and sat on the ground floor of the inn. It was as if a separate entity had crawled into the middle of the Moth & Moon and now nested there, guarded by thick pillars at each of its corners and decorated haphazardly in lanterns hanging like offerings from grateful villagers to the sleeping beast.
A wide selection of glasses and tankards hung from the balcony overhead, and beyond the counter lay a series of walls and doors, some of which led to the kitchens deep in the bowels of the inn. The walls were decorated with display cases of various sizes and shapes housing the innkeeper’s moth collection and shelves holding liquor of every kind. What hadn’t been made locally or imported from Blackrabbit or the mainland, had been brought to the island by the many ships passing through. The selection on offer was unparalleled in this part of the world. Every type of whiskey, rum, gin, brandy, wine, and beer imaginable, plus a few other exotic drinks even Mr. Reed, the innkeeper, with his encyclopaedic knowledge of alcohol, would be hard-pressed to identify and reluctant to actually sell, for fear of unfortunate side-effects. The pride and joy of the drinks on offer was the locally made Merryapple Scrumpy, a very potent cider produced at the orchard over the hills.
Upon leaving the inn some time later, Robin walked past the heat and clamour of the forge and headed up the gently sloping cobbled street towards his home. Anchor Rise was a very steep, narrow road with houses on either side that ran up the slope of the headland then curved northwards and went back down again to join Hill Road. Robin’s house was number five—a tall, thin building painted a dazzling white, like almost every other house in the village, but with a splendid sky-blue door. The house sat in the middle of a row of mostly similar-shaped houses, each one with a different colour front door. On one side of him lived Mr. and Mrs. Buddle, in the house with the red door. On the other side, with the orange door, lived Mrs. Caddy. The Ladies Wolfe-Chase lived in the mansion with the purple door at the top of the road. From the top floor of his home, on his bedroom balcony, he had a perfect view of the whole harbour, as the houses on the other side of the road were set lower than his. He could see clear across their rooftops to the harbour and bay beyond. Right now, though, all he wanted to do was soak in a hot bath.
He kicked off his heavy boots in the bright hallway and stood on the chilly little black-and-white diamond tiles in his thick socks. A toe poked through an extraneous opening, like a creature burrowing toward the light. Darning was another minor job he kept putting off. Sunlight poured through the multicoloured stained-glass porthole in his front door and showered the pale entrance in glorious hues of red, orange, and blue.
He hung up his overcoat on the wrought-iron coat hook affixed to the wall and stomped upstairs past a large oil painting of a stern-faced sailor with a short, wavy beard the colour of freshly cut straw. Dressed in a bulky coat, this seaman wore a flat-topped, navy-coloured peaked cap made from soft, braided cord, pulled low over his bushy blond eyebrows. Sewn to the cap by his father’s own hand was a small anchor pendant with a curious quality—instead of being tied to a ring at the top, the rope emerged from a spindle in the crown. This was the very same cap Robin himself wore.
The round-faced subject stood proudly, with arms crossed, a brass spyglass clasped tight to his chest in one hand. In the pockets of this man’s coat could be seen a journal and a compass. He was standing on the Merryapple headland, and behind him, heavy storm clouds were lavishly painted in thick, gloopy brushstrokes. In the distance, a mighty whaling vessel mastered the white-topped waves. The painting’s ornate gold frame was wound in leaves and fish scales, and a small plaque at the bottom read “Captain Erasmus Shipp.”
In his bathroom on the third floor, Robin turned on the brass taps and stoppered the plughole. The complex angular network of copper pipes snaking throughout his house, from the basement all the way to the top floor, rattled and gurgled and chugged as the piping-hot water came spilling out. This plumbing system was a bold experiment by some of the villagers many years ago and found extensively in Blashy Cove. Whenever he used it, he thought about how he used to have to bathe when he was a lad—in a battered old tin tub by the fireplace. He remembered how his father would carry the kettle from the stove and top up the bath with hot water, all the while humming some sea shanty or other. Sometimes, Robin caught himself singing those same tunes. He kept the old tub in the cupboard under the stairs, just in case these pipes ever stopped working.
The bathroom was white and panelled with long planks of wood. The great round frame housing the room’s only window was painted in the same duck-egg blue he’d used elsewhere in his house. Like the rest of his home, the bathroom was in need of repair, especially around the curved feet of the bath where the regular overspill of water had worn away the paintwork.
He chuckled to himself as he plopped a little wooden toy boat into the water. It was a perfect replica of his own beloved Bucca’s Call—complete with real canvas sails—made by someone very close to him and given to him as a present.
Well, they used to be close, at any rate.
He stripped off his clothes and dropped them into a wicker basket by the door of his bathroom. Now dressed in just his cap, he plodded into his bedroom and picked out an almost identical outfit—a heavy knitted woollen jumper, the same navy as his overcoat, a pair of long, cream-coloured linen trousers and a set of undergarments. Robin found little use for variation in his fashion, preferring instead to stick to what he knew worked for him. While he would occasionally replace an item of clothing if it became damaged or too worn to be of any use, it was usually with a near-identical piece. He would never dream of replacing his cap, however. He’d repaired it many times over the years, and it rarely left his head.
He carefully folded these clothes and neatly placed them onto a chair in his bathroom, beneath the round window with the same deliberate attention he gave even the smallest task. It was as though his every action, no matter how small, required the entirety of his concentration. When he was less than focused, things tended to drop. Or spill. Or break.
He oohed and aahed as he climbed into the steaming hot bath. It was a bit of a tight fit and some water tipped over the rolled edges and splashed onto the wooden floor. He was very tall, burly, and barrel-chested. “Stout” was the way Morwenna Whitewater always described him. She had practically raised him after his father was lost at sea. He had been ten years old then—almost a man, by his own reckoning—and defiantly claimed he didn’t need any help, but every day, she would make her way down the hillside from her little cottage to make sure he was looking after himself. In later years, he had tried many times to convince her to take a room in his house. “You’ve looked after me long enough. Let me repay the kindness,” he had said, but she was as independent as he was and preferred to remain in her cottage.
“Anyway,” she had laughed, “I’d never manage all them stairs!”
Sometimes, it felt as if he was as wide as he was tall. He could just about lie down in the tub if he threw his broad, powerful legs over the end of it, which he did. His bulky arms and shoulders rested now on the edge of the bath. The model of Bucca’s Call had quickly run aground on the fleshy island that was Robin’s big, round, smooth belly. The water soothed his aching muscles, and as he breathed in the steam, he pulled his cap down over his eyes and lost himself in a daydream.
by Damian Serbu
16 May 1789
It was too dark. Xavier felt like a fool in the garden as he weeded at a time of night when most people went to bed. He came out after dinner with Catherine, hoping that Thomas might return. But it was too late to count on a visit.
What had Xavier expected, anyway? His weakness angered him. Why did he hope for a forbidden dream and delude himself?
All day, he went over their conversations again and again. They talked about so much, the American revolution, monarchies, French politics, even religion. Thomas at first resisted revealing his atheism, but Xavier guessed and pulled it out of him, then had the hardest time convincing him that it didn’t matter. Xavier divulged little of his own opinions, however, because he still struggled to share personal feelings.
Most of all, Thomas’s bold presence intoxicated Xavier. He ordered himself to stop those thoughts, however, because of his duty to God. He must repress these unnatural yearnings.
Xavier picked himself off the ground and smelled the flowers in the soft breeze that blew through Paris, overpowering the other less attractive smells in the air. He collected himself and started toward the church. For the second night, his neighborhood was quiet except for the sounds of a few children and revelers, typical for a spring evening, and not indicative of a riot.
He sauntered toward the church and admired its simple, small beauty. The diocese tried to close it a number of times, but the political clout Catherine exerted with their family name kept it open. She thought she’d kept her protection of her youngest brother from Xavier, but the bishop had told him about it, rather bitterly. Regardless, Xavier loved serving there, amidst the common people, helping them through their daily struggles.
The sound of footsteps broke his contemplation.
“Abbé, I hoped to find you here. I’m sorry about the late hour. I was doing business.”
Xavier’s heart pounded at the long black hair, broad smile, and Thomas Lord’s confident voice.
“I thought you didn’t come to Paris on business?”
“I didn’t,” Thomas answered and looked away. “But I still have matters to attend to. I promised not to lie to you anymore. I’ve kept my word.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to imply anything.”
“No offense taken.” Thomas smiled again.
“What can I do for you?” Xavier struggled for words, but, too nervous, instead sounded like the authoritative priests he despised.
Thomas’s smile turned to a frown. “I didn’t come here to be insulted.”
“No, no. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it that way,” Xavier backpedaled. “I enjoy your company. I just had some things on my mind. Please—”
“Perhaps we need to stop being so nervous with one another. Can we be friends? Pardon my forward behavior, but last night, I felt an attraction to you and wanted your company. I confess my ignorance of French custom, so I don’t know if I’m crossing some boundary. But can we become friends without all of the pretense and nervousness?”
Xavier listened, exhilarated and terrified all at once.
“Excuse my boldness,” Thomas continued, “but I want companionship beyond the casual acquaintances I’ve met thus far. I love spending time with you. My friends say that my biggest fault is telling people how I feel, but now you know.”
They stared at each other before Xavier glanced at the ground. Thomas’s proposition came with innuendo. The mere idea of a personal friendship made Xavier nervous, but was Thomas suggesting something else? He was lost. His entire life he’d fought his sexual attraction to men. He had entered seminary, hoping for a magical cure within the priesthood’s celibate world but instead found only more admonitions to control oneself and no solutions.
Xavier’s heart almost pounded out of his chest. “I’m sorry. I don’t know how to respond.”
“For one thing, you have to stop apologizing. Every other sentence out of your mouth requests forgiveness. The Catholic Church’s teaching on guilt means too much to you.”
“I’m sorry, I only mean—”
“See? There you go again,” Thomas said. The gentleness in his tone caused Xavier’s breath to catch in his throat.
Xavier smiled when he almost apologized yet again.
“Is something funny?” Thomas asked.
“If you want this friendship, then I have a confession, one I think you already know. I don’t have friends.” He raised his hand to ward off any response from Thomas just yet. “I know. It sounds preposterous, but I have colleagues and parishioners, and I have an intimate relationship with my family. But no other personal relationships.”
“I guessed as much. But you should revel in life from time to time. You’ll find that I take things to the opposite extreme. I’ll teach you all you wish and more. May we sit?”
Xavier ushered him toward a bench, with only a faint lantern for illumination. Thomas sat next to him and looked into his eyes. The proximity aroused Xavier, sending panic through his body as his stimulation increased. Before either of them said anything, Thomas laughed.
“Abbé, you astound me. Why are you petrified? Your face is bright red.”
“Please, it’s Xavier.” He never said that to anyone outside his family. The church forbade such intimacy, and Xavier was not close to any of his colleagues except one nun.
“Xavier it is, then. Do you always look so distressed?”
“No, really—not usually. I just don’t know what to do with this…friendship.” He drew out the word, savoring it, uncertain what it meant.
“Well, what can I do to help?”
“I’m not sure. What do we do?”
“I see I have my work cut out for me,” Thomas said dryly. “We just do what we did last night. We talk and learn from each other. And there will be times we need to help each other. I’ll never need a priest, but I may need companionship.” Thomas patted Xavier on the back, sending that thrill down Xavier’s spine that he both loved and feared. “It’s difficult to explain how friendship works. Make this agreement with me. We’ll just enjoy the company, and when you need clarification or feel the urge to apologize, tell me and we’ll address those concerns as they come.”
“I’ll do my best, but tell me when I fail.”
“You’ll never have to guess about my feelings. In fact, I already have a concern.”
“I hear a lot of anticlerical sentiment in Paris. What keeps you safe?”
Xavier shrugged. “They lash out at the establishment. My parish never threatens me. Worship attendance has suffered, but I don’t fear the people.”
“Will the militia assist you?”
“There’s no need for extreme measures. They attack that which threatens them, and this small church in no way endangers anyone.”
Thomas seemed assuaged, and for the next hour, they chatted as they had the night before, about the riots, government, and Paris. The more they talked, the more Xavier relaxed. But his initial hesitance embarrassed him. He found Thomas’s familiarity liberating and fun, with no inhibitions or threat of condemnation. Perhaps friendship was simple, and as they talked behind the church, Xavier lost track of time. He was jolted out of their leisure when he heard steps echoing up the catacomb’s entrance behind the church.
How could he forget Maria? All this talk of friendship and he forgot his one friend in the Catholic Church. Maria and he arranged a visit in the late evening to ensure the secrecy of their plans without the watchful eye of church authorities, but in his infatuation with Thomas, he forgot.
Xavier jumped off the bench and away from Thomas too late. Thomas looked befuddled and then saw the approaching figure. The plump nun, dressed in black, stood off by herself.
“Is this a bad time, Abbé?”
“Sister, good evening. No, not at all. Please come,” Xavier said. As he floundered around, Thomas rose and headed toward the gate. He nodded and smiled, as if to say he understood, though Xavier worried that he had offended him.
“Good night, Abbé. Thank you for your counsel. It brought me comfort.” Thomas walked away into the night and Xavier stared after him, then caught himself and turned to Maria.
“Did you forget our plans?”
“Of course not. The gentleman sought comfort about a…a business and personal matter.”
“Is there anything wrong?”
Xavier wiped his brow with his shaking hand. “No.”
Maria raised her eyebrow, but he ushered her into the sanctuary and closed the door. She walked forward in silence. Did she suspect? Did she somehow know?
by Gillian St. Kevern
“Why do these things always come in threes? You never win the lottery three times, do you?” Gunn had steeled himself for entering the yoga studio by lighting a cigarette before he went inside. The tobacco and sulfur scent mingled oddly with the herbal notes of the incense lingering in the room, but even that couldn’t mask the smell dominating the studio—death.
Kenzies snorted. “If our perp sticks to only three we’ll be lucky.” She turned to Nate. “You okay, blossom?”
Nate swallowed. The victim’s eyes were open, and she stared at the ceiling. Her short hair was buzzed on one side and spilled into vibrant green-purple-indigo curls on the other, but while she’d obviously gone to a lot of effort to get the cut, she hadn’t maintained it. Her brown roots were showing.
Why am I focused on her haircut and not her death? Nate felt bile at the back of his throat. The woman was dead, the third victim in this ongoing case. She lay on her back on a runic circle that even to Nate’s untrained eyes looked exactly like those the previous victims had been found on. The two fang marks in her neck stood out against the paleness of her skin like a brand. Just like the others she had been entirely drained of blood.
With a start, Nate realized Kenzies was still waiting for an answer. “Yeah. Uh. Fine.”
“There’s something really suspicious about your reactions,” Gunn remarked conversationally. “I can taste shock, but we’ve already established you don’t know the victim. Has this convinced you that Ben’s responsible?”
Nate gulped. That was it, wasn’t it? If Ben was in Saltaire’s custody, he couldn’t have done this. I need to talk to Godfrey ASAP.
“How long has she been here?” Kenzies asked.
Clay stepped forward. He was far, far too cheerful for anyone who worked with Gunn. “The yoga studio closed at six. Sunset was at 7:02 p.m. The corpse was discovered by the cleaner at—when did you say, Tremaine?”
Tremaine looked up from her inspection of the studio’s supply cupboards. “I got the call at 8:17 p.m. I arrived here ten minutes later.”
Nate was relieved to see that she no longer looked ill. She didn’t even look tired. Having a case to work on was clearly more to her liking than crowd control.
Tremaine cocked an eyebrow at him, and Nate realized he was staring. “I see you got your uniform without problem.”
“Yeah, thanks for dropping it off.” Nate tugged the shirt straight. The new shirt didn’t adhere to his skin. “I feel much more comfortable.” He cast around for a way to change the subject. He didn’t want to remember what had followed the delivery of Nate’s new uniform. Ben snarling as he launched himself at Aki in an entirely unprovoked assault.
Am I sure that Ben isn’t guilty? He has all the killing instinct of a vampire… I have to talk to Godfrey. Nate slipped his hand into his pocket, gripping his phone, and took a step backward toward the door.
Gunn spat out smoke. “What are the odds we can’t identify this one either?”
Clay grinned. “Bad news.”
Gunn glared. “Security footage only shows victim?”
“Not even that. It’s a complete blank from the owner leaving to Tremaine arriving. Also, we had the owner in to ID the victim, and she says she’s never seen her before.”
“Do you think they’re doing this just to annoy us?”
Kenzies sniffed. “It would explain the wolfsbane.”
Nate was startled. “You can’t smell anything?”
“I can smell too much. Even despite the best efforts of him”—she jerked her head toward Gunn—“and the goddamn patchouli this place is drowning in, I can barely make out the smell of the rite. And you know how much necromancy stinks!”
Nate did not, but he filed that away for future reference. Evil equals smelly. “And the wolfsbane?”
“Overkill. Then again, the fact they used it at all is a good indication, if one were needed, that our perp is not a wolf.”
“Or a vampire. Don’t they have sensitive noses too?”
Kenzies looked sadly at Nate. Out of respect for Nate’s feelings, she referred to the killer as ‘the perp’ when Nate was in earshot, but he suspected she shared her superior’s views of Ben’s guilt. “I caught a whiff of vampire when we approached the building.”
“We gotta go,” Gunn announced. “Another night, another demonstration scheduled outside the Registry. You’d think people would have better things to do, but there you go. Kenzies, I leave the rest to you.”
Kenzies saluted. “I’m going to sniff around here. Clay, you monitor the Forensics team, and make sure they don’t accidentally set off a necromantic booby trap. Tremaine, take Nate back to the station. I want you to figure out who these victims are.”
Randy Clark has just looked in the mirror and figured out he’s gay. So now, all he needs is a boyfriend, and finding one should be easy enough, right? The trouble is Randy has a knack for being attracted to the wrong kind of guy, like the one who hasn’t spoken to him since he told him he had pretty eyes. Then there’s that locker-room jock who’s always putting him down. And new student Kerry Sawyer would be perfect—except for that girlfriend he left behind.
Obviously, when it comes to finding a boyfriend, Randy’s got a lot to learn. So for dating tips, he turns to friends Jeremy Smith and Annie Brock. But although Annie’s more than willing to help him find the right guy, between his own bad luck and her less than helpful advice (date a girl?), things are getting out of control fast. And while Randy struggles with bullies, bigotry, and his own self-doubts, he quickly finds that searching for love can be pitted with embarrassing misunderstandings, humiliating encounters, and hilarious missteps.
All in all, Randy’s sophomore year is shaping up to be one to remember—if he can just live through it.
Available at: Amazon
Chapter One: Of Mirrors and Locker Rooms
Today is a day of historic importance. See, I woke up this morning and discovered I’m gay.
I was brushing my teeth, and when I spit out and looked in the mirror, a pointy-nosed, sixteen-year-old with unruly blond hair stared back at me and said, “You, young man, are gay.”
I know I know I know, it’s not quite that simple. I didn’t just go to bed last night as the straight Randy Clark only to have the gay pixie come and sprinkle fairy dust all over me in my sleep. The truth is, it’s something I’ve kind of seen coming for a couple of years now. It’s like a process: one day you start adding up all the times you’ve caught yourself looking at guys or couldn’t stop thinking about a particular boy, and it just hits you—you’re gay.
It’s a lot to take in.
Luckily, I have the ride to school to think about it. When the bus stops, I check the time, and it’s running late…again. Three minutes late.
I hate being late.
My best friend, Blake, stumbles on board like a zombie. His head’s drooping, and his shoulders are slumped forward. Yup, it was obviously another late night for Blake Rogers.
I flash him my most saccharine smile and say “Good morning” with my most sarcastic cheeriness.
“Mumm-ning, Randy.” He yawns and is already dozing before his butt even hits the seat next to me. And with that, it’s guaranteed to be a quiet, peaceful ride the rest of the way.
It’s funny, but now that I’ve admitted I’m gay, I’m more at peace with myself than I’ve ever been in my whole life. It feels natural. But it’s kind of scary too. I mean, being gay isn’t exactly the kind of thing you can just announce to the world. Some people would instantly hate you and tell you so, while others would express their opinion with a few well-chosen punches—and I get more than my share of those already. It’s enough to make a guy a little nervous.
And then there’s the problem—the real problem. Something’s missing in my life—something important, something very important. See, a straight guy can look forward to the possibility of getting married, but what about me? Is there someone out there waiting for me? I mean, sure, friends are important in life, but they’re not enough. What I need is a boyfriend, my own special someone to turn me on and send me into sexual orbit. That’s what it’s all about, right?
Blake starts snoring. I elbow him in the side and shake my head. He grumbles, but at least he stops snoring. The guy sitting across the aisle from us snickers.
Blake may be my best friend, but he won’t be the first person I tell I’m gay. It’s not that he’d stop being my friend or anything, it’s just that it’s more urgent for me to find someone I can go to for advice about guys first. Blake likes girls way too much to be of any help on that issue.
For that job, I know exactly who I need: Annie Brock and Jeremy Smith. They’re in my art class. If there are any two people on earth who will be able to help me find a boyfriend, it’s Annie and Jeremy.
I’ve finally made it to fifth period after surviving a typically boring morning, and whatever it was they served for lunch. (They called it spaghetti, but I swear it was wiggling.)
Art. It’s my favorite class, and unlike some of my others, I’m very good at it. I’ve got artistic flair. Our teacher, Mrs. Pilt, is the stereotypical art teacher. She wears smocks of various patterns and colors, and they’re always stained with smears of paint.
The art room reeks of pottery clay, glue, and God knows what else. The walls are lined with shelves and paintings, and there are weird mobiles hanging like Picasso spiders from the ceiling. It’s always noisy, and the radio constantly blasts out the Bee Gees, Dire Straits, and The B-52’s, with a little Chic thrown in for good measure. There are a number of rectangular tables here and there with up to six people at each. Annie, Jeremy, and I sit at the table closest to Mrs. Pilt’s desk. We’re her favorite students.
The great thing about art class is, as long as you stay on task, Mrs. Pilt lets you chat with the people around you. At our table, Annie does most of the talking. I get in a few words every now and then, and Jeremy rarely speaks at all.
We’re starting a new project, and for the moment, even Annie’s quiet while we all consider the charcoal and paper before us. If I’m going to tell them I’m gay and enlist their help, now is my best chance. I’d better act fast.
I open my mouth, but suddenly a lump forms in my throat. I take a deep breath and try again, but my stomach flutters.
What’s wrong with me? Why am I so nervous all of a sudden? Maybe if I ease into the subject?
I clear my throat. “Did you see Andy Gibb on TV this weekend? He’s good-looking.” I manage to say it without stammering.
Annie pulls at a lock of wiry black hair and grunts out one of her peculiar snickers. “Honey, good-looking doesn’t even begin to describe Andy Gibb.”
Annie’s laugh is kind of a cross between a giggle and the sound some people make when they’re blowing their noses. Like Annie herself, it’s unique. She’s outspoken and outlandish, and she doesn’t care who knows it. And she’s definitely got more than her quota of artistic flair. It extends right down to the clothes she wears. For example, today she has on a tangerine and lime-colored disco party dress with three-inch-high clogs.
“Yeah, I really like Andy Gibb,” I say.
Without looking up, Jeremy says, “He’s okay. What other singers do you like, Randy?”
One of the nice things about Jeremy is he’s not only quiet, he gets along with everybody—except for that low-rumble, love-hate thing he and Annie have going on. It’s okay though, because in the three years I’ve known them, they always sit together, and they look out for each other, despite constantly bickering.
“Well, on the male side, I guess I’d have to say Rod Stewart. That Georgie song was just so moving.”
“The one about the gay guy?” Jeremy mumbles, and Annie starts to snicker.
“Yeah, I’m gay.”
So much for easing into the subject.
Annie freezes in mid-snort. Jeremy looks up without raising his head.
“Of course you’re gay, sugar,” Annie says with a chuckle. “But you don’t have to say it so loud.”
I quickly look around, my cheeks burning, but none of the other students are paying us any attention.
Annie’s smile softens. “Now, don’t be embarrassed. I just mean I’ve had my suspicions about you for a while. You dress too well, and you’re always combing your hair. And you even like the Village People.”
“So what? Lots of people like the Village People. What’s that got to do with anything?”
Annie stares at me. “Randy, you do know they’re all gay, don’t you? I mean, you do know what “Y.M.C.A.” is all about?”
“It’s about working out at the Y.M.C.A., of course.”
“It’s about hanging out with all the boys. You get it now?”
Jeremy slowly shakes his head and rolls his eyes.
Huston Piner always wanted to be a writer but realized from an early age that learning to read would have to take precedence. A voracious reader, he loves nothing more than a well-told story, a glass of red, and music playing in the background. His writings focus on ordinary gay teenagers and young adults struggling with their orientation in the face of cultural prejudice and the evolving influence of LGBTQA+ rights on society. He and his partner live in a house ruled by three domineering cats in the mid-Atlantic region.
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