Best Gay Romance 2015, page 1
BEST GAY ROMANCE 2015
Copyright © 2015 by Felice Picano.
All rights reserved. Except for brief passages quoted in newspaper, magazine, radio, television, or online reviews, no part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying or recording, or by information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Published in the United States by Cleis Press,
an imprint of Start Midnight, LLC,
609 Greenwich Street, Sixth Floor, New York, New York, 10014.
Printed in the United States.
Cover design: Scott Idleman/Blink
Cover photograph: Celesta Danger
Text design: Frank Wiedemann
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Trade paper ISBN: 978-1-62778-092-6
E-book ISBN: 978-1-62778-107-7
Transitions of Glass • SIMON BLEAKEN
To Dye For • JAY MANDAL
Discodemius • JERRY L. WHEELER
Jury Duty • TOM BAKER
Motorcycle Mash-Up • GUILLERMO LUNA
Romancing of the Hands • RAYMOND LUCZAK
The Great Masturbator • DANIEL M. JAFFE
Reader, I Married Him • MICHAEL THOMAS FORD
Second Chances • ERIN McRAE AND RACHELINE MALTESE
Funny Paper • CRAIG COTTER
The Kingdom of Haeven • ERIC ANDREWS-KATZ
Matters of the Heart • DALE CHASE
Dirty Town • SHANE ALLISON
Flyboy • MICHAEL BRACKEN
But for the Grace of God, Baby, There Go I • KEVIN KILLIAN
Corydon 13 • THOM NICKELS
About the Authors
About the Editor
When I was asked to take over the role of editor for this series, long edited by the more or less irreplaceable Richard Labonté, my first thought was “Oh no!” immediately followed by a second one: “Well, why not?”
After all, I have written over seventy shorter pieces of fiction myself, put out four volumes of short stories and several more of “true stories” and my own work in short fiction has appeared in over fifty anthologies. Every year, I read dozens of collections of stories and novellas for fun from many different areas: from hard science to science fiction, tomes of gay erotica to compendia of forgotten nineteenth-century German-Swiss writers and yellowing packets of nearly forgotten Ming dynasty authors—books that often fall apart in my hands just as I am finishing their contents.
Who better than a short-story adept, addict, connoisseur and still-active partisan in a glorious war and battle, to attempt what’s been called “the perfect piece of reading for one half hour to one hour: with a sigh or exclamation or chill to the bone at the conclusion”? Especially if I did my job right?
Besides, I know so many talented authors myself: friends, colleagues, cohorts if you will, people met at conferences and book fairs, at pride marches and book booths, in classes that I teach and lectures that I give or that I attend, at group readings and at award ceremonies and at the parties and bar parties and cocktail and restaurant parties before and after those. If I couldn’t come up with a bunch of good stories who could?
I did make some stipulations, as the entire field of LGBTQ writing has expanded so widely from say 1982, when my first edited anthology, A True Likeness: Lesbian and Gay Writing Today, came out and I wanted that expansion reflected in this book. The amazing variety of our good and excellent writers was on my mind, so I made certain that besides a general call for submissions, I also sent the call out to writers I knew, about sixty of them, and was not surprised when they passed it on to writers they knew.
I made it clear that I didn’t care who the author was or how s/he identified nationally, ethnically, sensibility wise, by gender, or even sexuality; however the story must be about a minimum of two men. It could be a true story or a made-up story, anything in between, or anything on the edge.
And the stories poured in. With this result: the current collection includes stories that range from the simple coming out tale to the punk, bitchy, wildly irrelevant and the super-sophisticated. In genre they go from the Chekhovian to the Woolfean to the postmodern and beyond. They veer from the gritty to the fantastic, from the sweet and delicious and dreamy to the sidewalk hard and downright uncomfortable to read, from tales of missed or botched connections to stories of vengeance and yes, even a coolly sexy cowboy yarn.
Are they all romances? I keep thinking about the words of the Countess in the classic film, The Women. No matter whether she is hitching up for the eighth time or getting divorced for the ninth, she always comments, “L’amour! L’amour!” So, of course these are romances, even when the erotic encounters and relationships end up fractured and awry in one way or another.
And when you are done reading them you will perhaps see other ways in which they reflect our wonderfully expanded and diverse gay life and queer authoring.
TRANSITIONS OF GLASS
For Richard Johnson
There are moments in life where you think This is it, everything’s going to change: the dream holiday, the new job or house, even the new relationship. But it rarely does. Sure, these events are milestones in life, but most of the time you stay the same deep down and just find yourself in familiar ruts in whole new places, and all the hopes you pinned on them for that wonderful new future evaporate like shadows before the dawn. The truth is, real change only sticks if it comes from within and those are the hardest changes of all to achieve. But sometimes life lends a hand when you least expect it to. Though those times are like transitions made of glass—you can’t see them approaching. They pass you by invisibly, yet leave you forever transformed in their wake.
For me, such a moment happened with my coming out, something I had never planned upon doing. I had lurked in the closet for years, terrified of revealing the truth about myself and hiding behind a mask of asexual pretence so thin I was stunned that nobody saw through it. The thought of coming out seemed less and less likely with each passing year, and I had grown oddly comfortable in hiding. So I quietly watched from the sidelines, contenting myself with private fantasies, certain in my belief that the world and the friends I held dear would reject me if they found out I was gay.
But nature can only be denied for so long, and the cracks soon began to appear. I was lonely, more so each year, and the sensual fantasies that I conjured in my mind when I returned home from a long day at the office never satisfied for long before I began to crave the actual touch and company of another man. And that, it turned out, was finally my undoing—in the best way possible.
We had shuffled out of the conference room like swarm of demoralized drones after the end of another dreary Monday-morning meeting—a tedious affair made only slightly more bearable by the presence of strong coffee and the surprise arrival of a whole box of fresh pastries to mark the fortieth birthday of Frank from accounting—when my eyes found themselves gazing upon Fynn Hartwell, who had paused by the watercooler for a drink. I stopped, pretending to shuffle through some papers while I secretly admired his long, muscular legs inside his sexy black trousers, and his crotch, which sported a wonderful bulge to the soft material. It wasn’t the first time he had caught my eye, but this was the best opportunity I’d had yet to properly check him out. Still shuffling my papers, I moved slowly around the side, taking in the view as covertly as I could, until I finally got a good look at his sleek rear as he bent to fill u
“Like what you see?” he asked suddenly, glancing over his shoulder.
“Sorry?” My face reddened as a bolt of alarm shot through me. I struggled to avoid dropping the papers.
“Come on, Adam. You were checking me out,” he grinned confidently. “I saw you.”
“What?” I blinked, while a little voice deep inside whispered shamefully: That’s sexual harassment in the workplace he’s got you for.
“It’s fine, really,” Fynn assured me, noting my concern. “I’ve done it to you, too. Just never knew you felt the same way.”
“You’ve made a mistake,” I said quickly, my heart racing, but I knew the beetroot glow of my face had given the game away. But the earth never cracks open and swallows us when we want it to, so I stood there, glowing like a furnace and blinking like an idiot, while my mind raced in circles wondering what to say next.
“Oh?” he moved nearer to me as he stepped away from the cooler. “Then I apologize.”
He was so close to me now it was all I could do not to stare. My breath hitched in my throat as he smiled. I had never truly noticed how stunning he was before—dazzling hazel eyes beneath dark tousled hair and just a hint of stubble around his jaw. I realized I should be saying something; instead I was just gaping at him, but my throat and lungs seemed to be having trouble coordinating the words that were colliding in my mind.
“But if I haven’t made a mistake,” he continued, his voice softening, “you really don’t need to worry.”
I said nothing, still too busy trying to come up with a reply and noticing all the while how his shirt clung to his upper body in a way that sent fresh shivers of excitement through me. I caught the scent of his aftershave then, and breathed in deeply, wanting to breathe all of him in right then and there. I felt myself hardening fully and grew redder still, knowing my own trousers wouldn’t disguise the obvious erection.
And then he was gone, disappearing down the hallway with only a quick glance back. I turned and collided with the watercooler in my haste to leave, and prayed that nobody had seen anything as I struggled to keep it from tipping over. Flustered and red faced, I slunk back to my office and retreated behind the safety of my desk.
I spent the rest of that day trying, unsuccessfully, to put the whole event out of my mind. But my thoughts kept wandering back to it, haunting me as if the memory were some strange ghost that had set up home in my mind. I shuffled uselessly around the office for the rest of the afternoon, staring at the screen without really seeing it, or flicking idly though paperwork without registering any of the words and figures printed there. Finally when five rolled around, I shut down the computer without remembering to save anything, grabbed my jacket and scarf and hurried out the door, just glad to be outside. Away from those confining walls and the watchful eyes of my coworkers I was finally able to freely turn my attention to the thoughts that had in truth been occupying my mind all day.
It was a cold, crisp evening. January still held the world in an icy grip, and the ground scrunched underfoot with the frost that was starting to form as the dusk gave way to night. I tugged my jacket closer around me as I hurried down the steps alongside the building and out onto the street below. The rush of cars and the fume-filled air greeted my senses as I moved past bright shop fronts that spilled wide strips of light out across the pavement, and made my way to the crowded stop where I caught my bus.
It was a walk I had made hundreds of times before, part of a routine that rarely varied: same old walk, same old faces in the crowd, even the same graffiti, sprawled in green spray-paint across the top of the bus shelter that read FAREWELL LEMMINGS that nobody had ever bothered to remove. Yet tonight it all felt different.
Sitting on the bus, after I had shuffled onboard with the rest of the lemmings, with the rumbling of the engine forming a steady background noise, I gazed out of the murky window at the condensation-veiled world beyond. The fogging on the windows turned the blurry city lights into coronas of dazzling beauty, making the buildings look like magical towers of some mythical realm against the black of the night.
I imagined myself not on a rattling bus filled with weary commuters but instead on a gilded carriage, being carried through that majestic kingdom. Passing through streets paved with marble and bedecked with bright rainbow flags, on my way to the steps of the palace to meet with a handsome knight, the greatest defender of that fantastical realm.
And there was Fynn, looming in my memory in the role of the knight, striding forward and removing his helmet as the carriage pulled up outside the gleaming steps of the palace. I remembered those sparkling eyes, so full of passion and energy, and his lips, so soft and inviting. And naturally I recalled that wonderful bulge at the front of his crotch that had got me into so much trouble earlier, and began to daydream not about magical kingdoms, but instead about what might be waiting for me behind that enticing veil of cloth.
I’ve done it to you, too, Fynn’s voice echoed through my memory, and I felt a sudden thrill at the recollection and the idea that he had noticed me also.
And then I sat back against the shuddering bus seat, forcing my mind to snap back fully to the reality of the present. Who was I kidding? Even if Fynn really was gay and not just yanking my chain, what could I do about it? There was no way I could come out. I could just imagine the reaction I’d get from my family, and the stronger reaction I’d get from my closest friends if they learned I’d essentially been lying to them all these years. The whole thing had the potential to spiral into a horrible mess. Life was rarely easy. In fact, most of the time it just seemed hideously complicated. So I eased myself down in the seat and tried not to think about any of it, just as I had always done.
When I got into my apartment everything was dark and cold, and I sighed as I reached for the light switch. The boiler must have broken again, for the timer was meant to have started kicking some much needed heat into the place ready for when I got home. I was just on my way to check on it when the phone rang. With a groan of frustration I turned and snatched it off the wall.
“Yes?” I said, more tersely than intended.
“Ouch. Bad day?” my sister’s voice piped back at me.
“Oh, Kat. Yeah it’s been…”
“Okay, so listen,” she continued, cutting me off. “Big news—and you are going to love this. Guess what?”
“I don’t know,” I replied with audible disinterest. As dear as she was to me, I was in no mood for any of her games tonight. “What?”
“You really are an ogre tonight.”
“Been a hell of a day,” I explained wearily. “So what’s the news?”
“You ready for this?” She waited a beat, then: “Pete proposed to me, right before my birthday too!”
“That’s wonderful,” I smiled, not telling her that Pete had asked my advice on a ring a month ago. “What a lovely surprise.”
“I know!” Her voice had reached almost shrill proportions with excitement, and I found myself wishing, not for the first time, that I had a speakerphone. “So, it’s just you now.”
“Me?” I frowned.
“To get hooked up with someone. Look, we all know you’re lonely. You should get out there, find yourself a good woman. Guy like you shouldn’t be alone.”
I bit my tongue, rolled my eyes and shifted the phone to my other ear.
“I’m fine, really,” I protested, all the while aware of the emptiness of my small apartment, half of it still bathed in shadows and all of it cold.
“Whatever,” she said, giving up with an exasperated sigh. “So, are you still coming out on Friday? Restaurant’s booked, and I’ve got two reasons to celebrate now!”
“I don’t know.” I shook my head, recalling her constant past attempts to hook me up with some new female friend of hers at every given opportunity. She meant well, but it was becoming a regular and excruciating trial to endu
“It would do you good,” she assured me. “And I’ve got a friend who says she’d love to meet you.”
And there it was, as always. The catch.
“I’ll think about it,” I lied, “but I’ll drop your card and present up to you on Wednesday, just in case I can’t make it, okay?”
I heard the crushing disappointment in her voice and felt as though someone had just kicked me in the gut. I was a terrible brother, and I knew it. But I couldn’t face another painful public charade of pretending I liked women in front of everybody when the truth was I’d much rather be asking out some of the cute waiters around us instead.
By the time I finally got around to checking out the boiler, the house was freezing. I lit a few candles in the faint hope that it might do something to warm the air, but all it got me thinking about was how nice it would be to have somebody to share a candlelit room with, or a sexy guy who knew how to fix boilers at the very least.
I ran into Fynn the next day at work. I had been out in the dusty bowels of the rarely used records department going through some of the old file archives, trying to trace a rogue piece of paperwork that had somehow evaded being properly scanned into the system back when it had come in, when I heard someone approaching. I glanced around to see Fynn watching me, a faint smile playing on his lips as he planted his hands on his hips appraisingly.
“Nice ass,” he winked.
I straightened, feeling my face flush once more, but secretly enjoying the attention.
“Figure that makes us even now,” he added, moving next to me and leaning against one of the filing cabinets. “Though, I meant what I said—the other day and just then.”
“Did you?” I asked, my pulse quickening.
I hesitated for a second, and then before I really knew what I was doing I took a step toward him, my eyes meeting his and studying them closely, as though trying to discern whether this was all an elaborate deception or some cruel office prank.
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