Excerpt One from Becoming Real:
Hello, all! The book club this month is featuring my collection of coming out stories, Becoming Real. I will be live to chat on the 31st, but for those of you who may not know what to expect from the work, I think I will post a few sample excerpts. These are a personal sampling, and just meant to give you the flavor of the seven short stories through the lens of some of my favorite moments.
Please enjoy, and please leave comments if you have any.
From In the Cards:
She landed hard against the floor. One hand held backwards in desperate shield against the unseen, got caught and snapped beneath the ensuing force of her body. What pain there was, she didn't feel, for all her focus stayed on Jim. The punch that sent her down, shocked her, but not enough that she'd be off guard again, in case the man came after her while she was on the floor.
Her side of the room was decorated with muscle men smiling slyly from their tight jeans. They be-muscled greeting cards, posters and a special pop-up calendar, complete with red-letter days.
May's side in comparison, had fields of horses in flight, chaise lounges over-spilling kittens and puppies, while her calendar had scenes of Pegasus through the ages of artistic expression. This month featured a perfectly blue sky with a winged horse, down to a daisy clenched in its teeth.
"Where's Margaret tonight?" he asked.
"With Jim, of course," asserted May, joining them in the cozy space she had so lovingly built.
"Is she still seeing him?" he asked. "How many children does he have now – "
Helen interrupted. "You mean by his wife, or all together?" She shook her head. "You have to be more specific."
"Let's just say, the ones he knows about."
"OK guys." May was trying to restore her sister's honor. "He has two baby girls."
"So why didn't they spend the night here? She could have kicked you out," Helen asked. "And you stay with me, like the other times."
May said, "He doesn’t like the dorms." Her tone suddenly turned into a whisper: "I think it makes him feel stupid." Her voice returned to normal. "And, yesterday was Meg's payday, so they decided to splurge and go out to a motel."
Josh quipped. "Oh, Le Motel-Six, so très elegant!" The terrible parody of a French accent lingered in the air like garlic on the breath.
May pushed herself up, saying, "So let's get to the cards!"
"Did Jim do that?"
Margaret quavered between being offended at the intrusion, and relief that someone cared.
"It's over with him."
Josh inhaled involuntarily. He felt sad for her, because he had heard that before. His eyes flickered guiltily up to the beefcake smiling from Meg's wall behind her. He looked away, at the floor, but then suddenly he raised his head with pursed lips and looked his full.
Margaret now focused on the odd kid before her. He was haggard. Bags had formed under his eyes overnight. He seemed exhausted and like he had given up. This odd boy was so different from the run-of-the-mill guys in her life. For one thing, Josh never tried to hurt; any slight he gave was accidental. She had that 'old feeling' about him again. Something within her, maybe a long malnourished motherly instinct, wanted to reach out to him, but wiser wisdom knows all things happen in their own time. She couldn't force him, no one could.
She said, "You don't look so hot yourself."
"I've been thinking about what you said last night. I couldn't sleep, and you know what, I think it cleared out my thinking. You know what I mean?"
Meg really wanted to get up and sit by his side. She resisted and shook her head. "No."
"I'm so damn tired and exhausted and frustrated, that I just can't help but think straight. In a weird way, it's helped me relax." He folded the bills in his fingers over and over. "And I was thinking about you too; you and Jim. Then I realized we're in the same boat, you and I. You think you can't do any better than him, and hold on to something that's going to hurt you, and I'm looking at being alone the rest of my life, and think – I can't do any anything about it…" He looked her straight in the eye. "But we can."
From The Meeting in the Park:
Josh blinked, too uncomfortable to maintain eye contact. He could see the overall effect of Gary's face now full on. He was beautiful, in the way a lost child is. "Beautiful night." Josh was dumbfounded at himself the instant he said this, remembering he had already used this banality.
Gary really grinned now, his hands striking an akimbo pose as he sarcastically let out: "Yeah. Not too hot at all…"
"Yeah, I hate it when it's too hot."
Gary was astounded. "You mean, this is not too hot for you?"
Josh blinked. What did he say? What should he say? "Yeah – sorry, I hate the heat. I really hate it."
Gary peeled away and did a one-eighty in the road. They sped south a little way, then Gary slowed down.
A couple of cars with a congregation of young guys standing by was parked on Josh's side. Gary leaned across him and yelled out the window, "Where you going, girls?!?" The people on the street made broad grins at Josh, pursed lips at Gary. Then a chorus of differing answers made Gary shake his hand at them and say, "We'll be Diagonal's, if anybody cares…Tah!" and he drove away.
Josh had to ask, knowing he'd sound the twat, but: "Were any of them girls?"
"You are a babe in the woods! No, none of them were girls. That's just what you call your posse, your crew, your – your club buddies, the kind you're not going to sleep with. Get it?"
Josh looked around. He found a pen. There was a small notepad. He swallowed hard, uncapped the pen and paused. What was he doing? What was he going to write to Gary he couldn't say here and now? The thought of how to express so much content in a way that seemed to say nothing, stymied him. Josh wrote with shaky hand: 'Joshua (in your car at ATM) 314-555-8753. Call me, and Thanks.' He put the pen cap on, dropped it. Ripped the paper off and folded it once.
The car door flew open. Gary plopped in, all legs and smiles. "Let's go!"
"Shelia. Right – I've got to drill it in. I'm so bad with names."
The dance music abruptly ended. A new song started in a clear break with the dance beat. A twang of country guitar made the crowd cheer in wild enthusiasm. Lines coalesced on the parquet, perfect rows with everyone placing hands on hips. A line dance; people loving it, move by move, a head bob forward, a hip swivel right, a joyful handclap out in front.
Shelia insisted: "Don't you want to dance?!"
"I can't, do that."
Shelia let it drop. "You over eighteen?"
"You're older than Gary. Hard to believe."
"Yeah. Hard for me to believe too. He's…it's like he's lived a life already, and I've just been born."
"Let me give you my phone number. Anytime you want to talk…"
"Do you come here every weekend?"
"Yeah, honey. We can meet up here – though, I do like to go some places where I have a remote chance of meeting Mr. Right, at least one who'd look my way."
"Does Gary have a boyfriend?"
"Whoa, honey. Let me be honest with your virgin heart right now, and be straight up – forgive the pun – but you're not Gary's type. He's into older men, the 'daddy complex,' you know. You got a type, sweetie?"
Josh wanted to shake his head.
He stopped himself, and said, "Yeah, Gary."
Gary handed Josh a small piece of paper with Diagonal's logo, a printed line of numbers below, and the word 'Gary.'
Joshua kept looking at it as he asked, "And that higher power you live your life according to?"
Finally, he blinked towards Gary.
"I think you already know." Gary stood. He leaned himself so close to Josh that his bare leg touched Josh's jeans. He slowly leaned in. An image burned in Joshua's brain – on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, no matter if you were inches from it, or taking the perspective of a piece of dust on the floor, when you viewed it, the hand of God never really touches the lifelessly gripping reach of Adam. That infinitely small space, the place where the divine lives, is like two guys kissing. So longed for, so meaningful and beautiful, so much the spark of life, but never completed; always a potential of Love in the generation of a physical act. Where the lips meet, Love seems possible, and with it, life.
Gary pulled the short sleeve of Josh down to him, and for the second time in the evening, Josh thought Gary was going to kiss him, but at last he felt Gary's soft lips near his ear. He whispered: "Don't worry, you're gonna be OK."