Hi there! Today I’m spreading on a new collection of M/M romance short stories from Richard May. GAY ALL YEAR has a story for every month–some sexy, some not, but all are hopeful.
How do men meet? Each story is connected to a holiday or event—Epiphany, Valentine’s Day, Pi Day, Arbor Day, Mothers’ Day, Fathers’ Day, summer vacation, a rodeo, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Thanksgiving, and Hanukkah—but may not be quite the celebration you’re expecting.
Neither may the men, and when these men meet, attraction does not always equal love—at least immediately—but chemistry finds a way.
How about a bonus? Below are excerpts from the beginning of EACH of the twelve stories…
“I never meant to live in San Francisco again, but here I was. At first, it was just a visit but when I saw how advanced the effects of my mother’s lung cancer were, I decided I couldn’t leave her to institutional caregivers and fly back to Boston, so I took a leave of absence, and then I telecommuted, and finally, my company offered me a transfer to the office in Menlo Park.
I also never expected to be inside a Catholic church again, but here I was. I had successfully avoided them in Boston, which is no easy trick when you’re Irish and raised Catholic. But now, I was back inside Saint Paul’s, fulfilling a deathbed promise to my mother. “Don’t blame God,” she had advised between wheezes and made me agree to go to mass. I wanted to scream. Of course, I blamed God and every fucking priest and every fucking Catholic in the world, but I bit my tongue and said I’d go, thinking her funeral mass would fulfill the promise. “And my funeral mass doesn’t count,” she’d said with the remainder of a twinkle in her eye. Trapped—and I didn’t even get to scream.
I had put it off for six months until I’d run into Mrs. Andreozzi on Tuesday past, and she’d mentioned Saint Paul’s had a new priest. “Very handsome,” she informed me as if that were enough of an inducement for a gay twentysomething male. And perhaps it was because the very next Sunday I entered the building, genuflected toward the altar, crossed myself, and took a seat in a pew.
There was an excellent turnout of ladies and gay men. And Mrs. Andreozzi was right: the new priest was very handsome. He was a tall man, with dark wavy hair combed straight back from his forehead, regular features, and noticeably wide shoulders. Nothing at all like Father Michael, with his thinning red hair, sallow complexion, and sagging jowls. I hoped he was different from Father Michael in other ways as well, for the altar boys’ sakes.
After mass, I tried to slip past the line of parishioners telling the new priest how much they liked this or that, but he stepped away from an older woman in midsentence to intercept me.
“Thank you for coming,” he said, barring my way with his conspicuous body and extended right hand. “Father Adrian Doyle.” I shook the hand hesitantly. Touching a priest was, and probably always would be, disgusting to me. Father Adrian’s hand was warm, but then so had been Father Michael’s.
“Stephen Kinney,” I said. The priest’s bright-blue eyes momentarily ceased sparkling. Apparently, he’d heard the name before. I’m sure he has, I thought with satisfaction…”
February: “Finding Good in Plenty”
“I hadn’t been to Plenty since the funeral but now here I was in the graveyard where Jack’s ashes had been laid to rest. His burial was one of the few compromises Jack’s parents and I had made after his death.
“He wanted to be cremated,” I insisted during our several contentious phone calls.
“He needs a Christian burial!” his mother repeated just as often. I wondered if I were the only one who found it absurd, my partner’s cremains in a child-size casket sitting deep in an adult-size grave. I know Jack would have laughed.
I’d like to say I heard him laugh that day, somewhere in the ether beside me, but I didn’t. I hadn’t felt his presence since his heart stopped beating in the hospital room at the U.T. hospital. I even prayed, but why should God listen to me after all those years? Anyway, he didn’t.
Back in the present, I walked between lines of headstones, careful not to step where a body was likely lying, although the person they had been wouldn’t care. I laughed self-consciously at myself and then shut up. There were other people at other graves with their own memories. They deserved some silence.
One young man in particular caught my eye, which made me hush myself again, although I hadn’t said a word out loud about him. Jack not dead a month and already I’m looking, I admonished.
The man I was trying not to ogle was in his early twenties, a dirty blond dressed in very faded jeans, which only fit because he was young. He wore a light-blue T- shirt that showed off his slender chest, and he held a straw cowboy hat reverently in one hand. The other hand was wiping tears from his eyes. I ducked my head. I had shed enough tears myself to know when to leave people alone.
I found Jack’s stone at the edge of the Carlson family plot, neatly fenced off from its neighbors by twelve-inch- tall iron railings recently painted a sober dark gray. John Clayton Carlson, Jr., the stone read. Born January 17, 1969 Plenty, Texas. Died July 13, 2015 Austin, Texas. He is with the Angels.
I wondered why the “a” in “angels” was capitalized but shrugged it off. I hadn’t been in charge of the memorial stone. Mrs. Carlson wanted a grave and a headstone; she could have her way with the words as well.
I started to step over the inconsequential fence but paused in midstep. If any of the living Carlsons were here, they’d be scandalized for sure. Of course, none of them would be. I’d told them I was coming—warned is more like it. They wouldn’t want to see me. But I put my foot down anyway and walked to the gap between the fancy iron scrollwork.
Jack’s grave was nearly at the end of the third row, one empty gravesite in. Space for me, I thought bitterly. I read the words chiseled in the marble a second time. So few words for such a good life. Both the life and the epitaph were too short. “Healthy as a horse!” he’d always say when he came back from his annual physical. Why had he lied to me the last three years?…”
March: “One Plus One”
“My date stared longingly at a man across from us at Aslam’s Rasol. Who wouldn’t, I said to myself charitably. The man had those capturing eyes, the darkest dark, set wide apart in a strong, diamond-shaped face shaded a grayish brown. His hair sprang upward, obsidian black and gleaming, came close at the sides, and elongated down the jaws through deliberate stubble, ending in a Van Dyke beard precisely trimmed.
Because “Hank” gaped so openly, I debated whether to slap the maroon-colored menu down and declare our date officially over, but just then, our server Chanda came back with our drinks and her ready iPad.
“May I take your order now please?” she asked politely, her smile gracious in a pale North Indian face so unlike the handsome man across from us.
“I’ll have the chicken tikka masala,” I said without further thought or any reopening of the menu. The man with the capturing eyes glanced my way, lowered his head conspiratorially to his friends, and spoke inaudibly to them. His perfect lips moved silently, the upper formed of conjoined scrolls and the lower full and ready to be bitten. Now I was the one staring. Hank brought my attention back to himself by going through his resume. It would have been impressive—for a job interview. Happily, our food arrived, which gave me something to do other than listening to my date’s life achievements and impressive financial assets. I tried not to look at the nearby table. In any case, Hank continued looking often enough for both of us during his soliloquy. I was drinking the last of my second glass of wine when we heard the four men request their bill, pay, and rise. Hank stopped somewhere in a catalogue of his forties to stare hungrily after them as they left. I decided enough was too much and extracted sixty dollars from my wallet. I laid it next to Hank’s pale-blue plate, wiped nearly clean with complimentary naan.
“What’s this?” he asked, money apparently able to break his concentration.
“For my dinner. Thanks,” I said perfunctorily, getting to my feet. The quartet of Indians was at the door, playing audience to our drama. Ignoring Hank’s muttered curses, I followed them out of the door. They stopped on the Valencia Street sidewalk, speaking in some musical language. The handsome man shook his head at them and nodded at me. His friends all turned, expressed variations of “Ah!” and left us to it.
“Ganak,” the man said in an unexpected baritone and extended his right hand.
“A.J.,” I said, taking his hand.
He smiled more broadly. “We use that name, too, where I am from. In Malayalam, my language, it means invincible. Are you unconquerable, Ajay?” He flirted pleasantly. “It also means lovable,” he added, not asking whether I was that as well.
Our handshake was interrupted by someone pushing through us. It was Hank exiting the restaurant. He scowled deeply at us both and stomped away south.
“Your friend does not look pleased,” Ganak said with a suppressed smile.
“We aren’t friends. We were on a Zoosk date,” I said, wondering whether I should have. “No loss to me. It wasn’t going anywhere.”
“Yes,” Ganak agreed, smiling sardonically. “He seemed to look more at our table than at you.”
April: “Ripe Fruit”
““Can I help you?” a male voice asked. I turned, ready with my list of questions. A young Chicano was standing behind me, the fabric of his forest- green polo shirt stretched almost to bursting across his chest.
“Sir, can I help you?” his voice repeated. His eyes were laughing at mine, like they’d seen this all many times before.
“Uh, yes,” I stuttered. “Uh, I’d like to buy some trees.”
My eyes shifted rapidly to the brightly colored photos of ripe fruit on tags hanging from a row of trees. Juicy Gravenstein apples. Dangling Anjou pears. Darkest red Bing cherries. Fecund Honey Babe peaches. I felt so embarrassed.
“You are looking for fruit trees?” the young man asked, following my stare.
I nodded yes guiltily.
“What kind of fruit?” he prompted, taking a fatal step next to me. I willed my hands to remain at my sides.
“What do you suggest?” I asked, blushing as red as a Washington Delicious.
“You like Fuji apples?” He moved down the row. My eyes followed his rotating walk, his khakis riding low on his hips, his green shirt tucked haphazardly into his pants. “Produces good if you have a lot of sun,” he informed me. “I have lots of sun,” I confirmed enthusiastically.
He nodded and bent over, exposing brown skin and a glimmer of red underwear.
I wiped sweat off my forehead.
“Here are a couple good ones,” the young man said, straightening up. He held two young trees like dumbbells. My eyes grazed from tree to tree across his chest. His nametag read Alejandro.
“Which one do you like? A thicker trunk is better,” he prompted. Alejandro had a thick trunk and a Mayan face. I thought of museum statues of squat, muscular men, stolen from Mayan architecture. Alejandro would look like that—if he were naked. A film rolled in my mind.
He shook the trees at me to bring my attention back to commerce.
“That one,” I said, indicating his right arm. Alejandro pointed it at me. I accepted the tree. It was heavier than it looked.
“Anything else?” he asked. “Pears maybe. A ripe pear is really tasty.”
I nodded vigorously in agreement.
“Here’s a bosc. It keeps better. Or maybe you’d rather have a Bartlett?” He bent over again, checking tags.
“Bosc,” I managed to squeak out.
“It’s a little more money.” He turned around to look at me. His eyes widened. “Tan grande,” he whispered.
I said I’d take the pear tree, too, without asking how much money tan grande was.
“How about a cherry and a citrus?” he asked, his eyes still focused on my crotch. “Then you will have ripe fruit all year.”
“I’d like ripe fruit all year,” I said in a stronger voice. The longer he leaned over, the more definite I felt about it. Maybe I should… I squashed my maybe like a bug. He was way too young…”
May: “Someone I Didn’t Know”
“I decided not to go home for Mother’s Day even though my sister invited me out to Douglaston. I opted instead to spend the day in the Metropolitan Museum but avoided madonnas, pietás, and all mother and child scenes painted down the centuries.
As I gazed at the muscles of a marble Heracles, a vaguely familiar voice behind me said, “Hello, Dave.” I turned, smile on automatic, and saw someone I didn’t know. Whoever he was, though, he was good looking in a deliberately rough trade kind of way, with the de rigueur two day’s growth of beard covering strong jaws and a jutting chin. Full red lips pouted provocatively at me. Sunglasses hid his eyes. Really? But what I saw below the chin made me forgive and forget. A tight yellow dress shirt open several buttons down the chest displayed a deep tan and deeper cleavage. Jeans formfitting in the crotch and thighs covered and accented the stranger’s own heavy musculature. Heracles had a rival.
“It’s Bruce,” the stranger said, removing the shades. “Bruce Sonnenschein. From high school?” The name evoked memories, which the man in front of me did not. I repeated the name uncertainly and hurt appeared in the dark-blue eyes. I recognized him now.
“Bruce Sonnenschein,” I repeated a second time, still trying to reconcile the present person with the past. The fey voice was gone. So were the fluttering hands and the overly coy pursing of lips. This Bruce Sonnenschein was butch to the nth degree.
The man in front of me put his hand on my shoulder in a consoling way. He said, “I’m sorry your mother’s dead,” and I frowned. If I lived another hundred years, I never wanted to hear that sentence again, but I liked his hand on my shoulder. It did feel consoling.
“Thank you,” I managed to say. “How did you know?”
He dropped his hand and shrugged. “My mom still keeps in touch with some people in Farmingdale. Would you like a coffee? Or brunch?” The segue was abrupt but his tone and look said he was confident I’d say yes. “There’s a cafeteria downstairs.”
“No,” I answered curtly, coming back to myself. I didn’t need that depressing place with its manufactured light and sickly color—especially that day—and anyway, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be with Bruce Sonnenschein. Seeing him again made all the guilt rise up in me, but something else had risen as well, so I agreed…”
June: “The Man in the Photo”
“Welcome to the unit,” my new commanding officer said. He stood to return my salute before shaking my hand. I couldn’t believe how much he looked like the man in the photo—or at least like him if he’d lived.
“Take a chair, son. Tell me about yourself,” Colonel Markham said, giving my hand a friendly final squeeze before sitting back behind his desk.
The word son echoed loudly in my ears.
“You graduated from West Point like me, I hear,” he prompted when I didn’t immediately respond.
My brain snapped back to reality. Best to stay in the present tense. “Yes, sir. Nineteen ninety-four,” I said. I was at Fort Riley, Kansas, again. Just another duty rotation: stationed overseas two years, Fort Riley for one or two. The life of a career infantry soldier.
The colonel smiled, just a whisper of one, like the man in the photo. “Nineteen seventy-eight for me. Just missed Vietnam.” He looked regretful. I’d had two wars so far, Afghanistan and now Iraq. I’d give him one of them— gladly.
While I recited my resume, I subtracted 1978 from 2004 and added twenty-two to calculate the colonel’s age. He looked good for forty-eight, very good. His chest swelled nicely inside his khaki shirt. Short sleeves showed off muscular biceps and dark hairs down sinewy forearms. When he stood, I could see he hadn’t developed a gut sitting behind a desk.
For thirty minutes we talked about where we’d served in the army—including how many times we’d been at Fort Riley, what we’d done, and whom we both knew—until a knock on the open door made me jump as if we’d been up to something.
The colonel barked, “Come in!” and I looked around, locking eyes with another captain. I recognized that look. “Excuse me, sir,” the young officer said, crossing the
threshold. He was blond, blue-eyed, and very well-built. “General Cameron is on the phone, sir. I didn’t want to interrupt but—”
“Of course, Captain.” Colonel Markham cut his junior officer off briskly. “The CO,” he said to me in confiding tones, one hand on the receiver and another poised above the extension button. “See you tonight,” he added before taking the call. I saluted although the colonel was already speaking. He returned my salute automatically.
“We’re all looking forward to your welcome party,” the blond captain whispered as he ushered me out of the door, hand firmly on my back. A little too firmly, but I understood where he was coming from. I’d been there.
Outside the colonel’s office, he introduced himself as Captain Jensen even though the insignia on his starched collar and name tag on his ample chest had already told me as much. “Kevin,” he added, waiting.
“Jamie,” I said after a moment’s hesitation. We both carried the same rank, but that wouldn’t be for long. I had passed my board and was finally on the list for major although I’d done my best to avoid it. My buddy Pete said I didn’t want to make rank because my father, James Sr., had died a captain. I told him he had taken too many college psychology courses. Being promoted meant assignment to a staff position. I wanted to be fighting, not sending men to fight for me.
CPT Jensen cleared his throat. “Why don’t I show you around?” he suggested seductively. Hadn’t he heard about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?…”
July: “That July I Learned to Surf”
“Hey brah, you okay?” the stranger asked, a concerned frown temporarily wrinkling his otherwise flawless face. One second, I had been thinking about lunch, and the next, I was looking up into sky-blue eyes and a tan chest abundantly covered with dark-blond hair. I managed to nod yes, and he helped me to my feet. “Jonas,” he said, giving me the waggling thumb and pinkie surfers use.
“Jared,” I responded without the salute, trying to ignore the fact we both were naked and my elbow and ass hurt. A lot.
“Cool! The two J’s!” he said. His voice seemed to blare in the long open space, but no one seemed to be paying any attention to us but us. Jonas high-fived me and went back to showering, chattering away like we were old friends. I tried to listen and not ogle. He said he had just moved to San Ramon. I promised to introduce him to my friends.
However, Jonas Michaels didn’t need social assistance from me and my middling popularity. All he had to do was walk down the halls at Cal High, grin, and say, “Hey brah!” and people fell in love with him. I don’t know where he got the “Hey brah” from, but if you heard it, you knew who was coming and you prepared to be happy.
It didn’t hurt that Jonas had money although money is in very good supply in San Ramon. He had his own car— a BMW z4 hardtop convertible—one key indicator of family wealth. A second was his home. The first time I saw Jonas’s house in the new Bella Vista section of town, I knew the Michaels family had means way beyond their end. It was an Italian villa-style mansion built on three levels against a hillside with terracotta tiled roofs, various balconies, and a bell tower with a significant telescope but no bell. On our arrival, one of three garage doors opened, and Jonas eased the BMW inside. The other two stalls were empty.
The invitation to his house had mentioned a pool. We changed in Jonas’s bedroom, which was as big as my parents’. I turned my back on his shedding of clothing and stepped into navy-plaid swim trunks. When I dared look again, my eyes followed the treasure trail down his abdomen and belly into minimal turquoise-colored cloth and the conspicuous bulge inside it. Jonas laughed at my open-mouthed stare and took off running. I ran after him through the house and into the pool. He parted the water with a competitive dive, and I followed with mine a second or two later.
“You’ve got a good stroke, J,” I heard him say after I came up for air at the end of a lap. “Ever surf?”
“No,” I admitted. “I was on the swim team though,” I offered as an alternate credential.
“Oh, man, it’s so sick. I could teach you,” he responded, brushing aside my varsity swimming experience.
“Maybe,” I said, trying to sound interested before I pushed off for another lap. I was afraid my other interest was showing through my shorts…”
August: “Kachina Dancer”
“My hands fumbled across the bed for Joao’s back. There was nothing but air and rumpled sheets. Had he left already? I opened my eyes. No, he was sitting on the edge of the bed, pulling up his socks. They were always white unless he went out. We had stayed in last night.
I pushed up, twisted onto my back, and sat up against the beige wall of our Best Western Window Rock king- size, feeling sadness creep up on me again.
“Leaving?” I asked, trying not to sound too pitiful.
“Got to, Davi. You know,” Joao said in his soft Brazilian accent. When he stood and stepped into his jeans, I lunged across the bed and tried to pull him back down. “Let go, irmão. I gotta get ready,” he said, laughing and pushing me away but only getting the tight jeans halfway up his thighs. I buried my face in his white underwear. He turned around. “You want some more, baby?” he asked, small dark eyes dancing.
“Yeah,” I said.
He pulled his briefs down and pushed in between my lips and teeth, muttering, “Tão loiro tão bonito” over and over as he moved in and out of my mouth. I knew what that meant because he said it a lot. “So blond, so pretty,” he told me when I asked, looking at me, well, looking at me like he meant it, I guess.“Ooh, Davi. You got the sweetest mouth,” he said in a voice I could barely hear. One arm stretched down my back until fingers found the elastic of my underwear and slid inside. His breaths grew louder and heavier, and he started muttering in Portuguese. “Chupa me, baby. Chupa me,” he whispered. “Boa,” he said, over and over.
I brought him close before his fingers along my jawline signaled me to stop. His eyes were half hidden by their pale-purple lids. “You got any condoms left, baby?” he purred. I started to pull away to get him one. “Ainda.” He kept my head in place with one calloused hand while the other groped for an unopened package on the nightstand. “Get on the floor, Davi,” he said, as he slipped the rubber on. “I gonna ride you like a brahma bull. Gonna fuck you good so you don’t forget me before Albuquerque.”
I got on the floor and into position. Joao knelt behind me and began riding me hard. In just a couple minutes, he went wild, fucking me like I guess the bulls fucked the cows in his father’s fields back home, banging away and bellowing. I loved hearing him.
“Sorry it was so quick, Davi,” he said. “But you know I gotta go. You gotta go too.” Joao was right—another day, another rodeo—so we cleaned up and dressed, grabbed our bags, and went outside to our trucks, my beat-up old Ford next to his brand-new Dodge like before and after.
“So, you going to Zuni next, right?” he asked. I nodded yes, knowing he wasn’t. Too small time for him now. He entered only major rodeos in huge arenas while I was still pissing around in small towns.
“I’ll see you in Albuquerque,” he promised. I nodded again but that was two weeks away and a lot could happen. It probably would. I had heard the rumors. But, fuck, I didn’t have a ring on my finger and neither did he. I did stuff too—for money mostly, sure as hell not for love or whatever it was Joao and I had. I wondered how much longer whatever it was would last…”
September: “Garden Party”
“Henry, what you doin’ for Labor Day?” my friend Bill Barnes drawled at me after plopping his long, lean body onto one of the green fabric chairs facing my desk.
“Nuthin,” I drawled back. Which wasn’t precisely true. I had an invitation to drive home to Nashville for a family picnic, but that could wait if Bill Barnes had a better idea. I loved my family, but I’d been after my colleague for years.
“Good,” he said, slapping his well-tailored thighs and standing up. “You’re coming home with me then. We can leave work early on Friday. Old Man Lafferty’s bound to announce an early closing. Bring a suit or two.”
“Wait! Where are we going?” I asked before his bodacious ass could sashay out of my door.
“The Delta, Henry. We still on for lunch?”
I nodded, sitting back in my chair. The Delta with Bill Barnes, his home territory. Well, I swan—as my granny used to say. The possibilities made it difficult for me to concentrate on the Smallsby case. I had heard about his family’s house, with its fluted columns and full-frontal verandah, often enough to wonder whether it truly existed. People do make up stories about plantations and civil war family valor. Wanting Bill Barnes and wondering about the house had come together in my mind, all part of my family’s upward social trajectory.
On the day, bags in hand, we ambled through heat and humidity toward the parking garage, Bill Barnes talking all the way. Mr. Lafferty, our managing attorney, had indeed let the staff leave early and given us attorneys the option. Normally, I might not have taken it, but I would follow Bill Barnes’s smile anywhere, anytime.
I gave God a little thank-you Bill had a convertible. The weather was so hot and heavy I had sweat through my dress shirt already. We headed south on US 61—the Blues Highway, Bill called it—through fields of farmers’ market gardens. I’d been to some on weekends.
“Do you like the blues?” I asked him.
“Not really. How about you?”
“Not really,” I repeated, staring at the mound of his
left pectoral exposed by the wind sluicing through the car, made possible by Bill undoing at least three buttons after he removed his tie. “I’m looking forward to meeting your family,” I said, trying to take my mind off his chest.
He gave me a funny look, but it vanished, and he slapped my thigh. “Hope you like crowds!” he exclaimed.
Just north of Clarksdale, a town I’d only seen on a map, we did a jog west and then south again on a narrow state highway, flanked by telephone poles along one side and a line of cottonwoods on the other. We drove fast through one disintegrating little southern town after another until Bill announced, “Here we are! Rosedale, Mississippi, my hometown.” I had imagined rows of elegant mansions and manicured lawns, given Bill’s often recited family history, so Rosedale with its rundown, ruined, and empty storefronts was quite disappointing. I wasn’t sorry when Bill didn’t stop. On the other side of town, we passed through a brief forest of sweet gums and more cottonwoods into a wide field of low green plants.
“What’s that?” I asked, nodding right.
“Our soybeans,” Bill answered. “We’re close to Beaulieu now.”
October: “Disaster Day”
“You don’t see many guys like him in a Native American bar unless they’re looking for red meat. Too big, too blond, and too white.
“Can I buy you a drink?” I asked, coming up alongside him. He looked startled like a deer in deep brush when he notices your gun.
“Uh, I guess so,” he said, ducking his head. His hair was short but curly, the kind you like to catch your fingers in.
“Okaaay, what’ll it be then?” I asked, after a few seconds had ticked by. Even in the dim light of the bar, I could tell he was blushing. Good. I like embarrassing white guys. Still, it was kind of funny, him being so big and all.
“A beer is fine.” He gulped like he was already drinking one. I waited some more, tapping my fingers on the bar. “Anything,” he said, stuttering a little.
I looked down at his tight shirt, tight body, and tight pants. “Anything?” I asked, wondering if he understood me.
He straightened up and looked me square in the eye, so I guess he did.
“Frank,” I said, not putting my hand out to shake.
“Randy,” he answered.
“Sure hope you are,” I said into his ear, giving it a lick. He jumped away and looked around the bar. I didn’t.
Everybody in the place knew I was queer, and nobody cared.
“Still want that beer?” I asked, keeping my face close to his.
“Sure,” he muttered, his mouth grim like I was bad medicine he had to take.
“A pale ale and an Eight Ball,” I told the bartender. Sarge didn’t ask which brand or ask for money. He probably figured the white guy would pay.
“Here you go,” Sarge said when he sat our beers down in front of us.
“Which one is mine?” the white guy asked, looking nervous. Hell, this guy wanted sex so badly I could smell it. One beer and we’re out of here was my bet.
I held the stout up for him to taste. He made a face. I handed him the pale ale.
“That’s good,” he said, after he swallowed some. “Thank you.”
Figures, I thought. Paleface, pale ale. I laughed. “What’s so funny?” he asked.
“Bottoms up!” I said, winking at him and clinking his glass with mine. He smiled uncertainly and took a big gulp. No, sir, it wouldn’t take long.
“Haven’t seen you around. Are you just passing through?” I asked. Passing through would be good. No complications.
“No,” he said, looking eager. “I live here now.” He didn’t say what part of town or where he was from originally, but it didn’t matter. I didn’t expect us to become Facebook friends. “
November: “Home on Leave”
“I was in my old room with posters of famous athletes still on the walls. My trophies lined the bookshelves. The comforter my mother crocheted for me covered my double bed. The same curtains, bought at Sears, framed the window. My teenage and college clothes hung in the closet or lay folded neatly into drawers.
“Maybe you’ll be able to wear them again,” Mom said behind me. I looked at her in disbelief. I’m an inch taller than high school and weigh forty pounds less than college, thanks to PT and carrying a ninety-pound pack.
“Okay, Mom. I’ll try them on.”
She smiled at me like only a mom can and smoothed an imaginary bump in the comforter. She had mailed another one to me—in red, white, and blue—during my basic training. It was on my bed back at Fort Benning. I didn’t care what the guys said about it. It said home to me, and home was a good place to be, especially at Thanksgiving.
My parents had met me in a new car at Logan. On the drive to Lawrence, they had asked the usual questions about the flight, the food, what I was going to do during my visit and whom I was going to see.
“Mary Jo Gleason is in town,” my mother said with an expectant smile. I didn’t have any specific plans yet, but one thing was for sure: I didn’t plan to hook up with an old girlfriend from high school.
In my room Mom brought it up again—not Mary Jo Gleason but dating women. “Any Georgia peaches?” she asked.
“Plenty, Mom,” I answered and started selecting clothes to try on, culling obvious ones for the Saint Vincent de Paul bin.
“I’ll leave you to it then,” she said and turned toward the door. Over her shoulder she added, “That sweater always looked good on you.” I took my high school varsity sweater out of the Saint Vincent pile and hung it back in the closet.
After Mom went downstairs, I stopped sorting old clothes and changed out of my uniform, which I hung in the middle of my sartorial past. I dressed in civvies bought in Georgia and went downstairs to watch football with my dad.
“Go help your mother,” he said, giving me a smile and a nod of his head in the right direction. I looked a lot like him from the neck down. From the chin up, I was all Mom.
As soon as I got through the swinging door to the kitchen, my sister, Mary Margaret, yelled, “What? No football?” I gave her a smooch and watched her shell peas. She looks like Mom too—all dark hair and pale skin. I still burn, even after all my assignments to sunny locales. My sister smiled our mother’s smile, handed me a knife, and jabbed hers at waiting bunches of carrots. We played sous chef and talked. She didn’t ask me about girls.
After a few minutes, I heard the front door open and three loud male voices coming our way. One was Dad’s, another was my brother’s, and the third I didn’t know. Its owner came into the kitchen first, leaned down, and gave my mother a kiss on the cheek.”
December: “Eight Nights”
“A package was waiting for me Monday morning, wrapped in blue paper and white ribbon. There was a card attached. The computer-generated printing read Dear Steven, Happy Hanukkah. I’m not Jewish but my name is Steven, and it was my desk, so I untied the ribbon and pried apart the blue paper and gold tissue. Inside was a simple black rubber ring two inches across. What kind of joke was this? A cock ring? Who would give me a cock ring? After staring at it a while, though, I wondered if I should try it on. I stretched it tentatively. Voices approaching made me hide the thing in my desk drawer as fast as I could.
Later, during a bathroom break, I slid it on in the privacy of a stall. A perfect fit. My brain said weird, but my cock seemed to like it. It swelled, ready for action, so I let my right hand have its way with me. Afterward, I eased the thing off and went back to work, not that I accomplished much. I spent most of the morning researching Hanukkah. Eight nights, miracle of the oil, symbolic of the survival of the Jewish people, gift giving each day. Got it.
I pondered what kind of Jewish admirer would give me a cock ring for the first night and what would he give me tomorrow. Images of cute Jewish men at Hendley Cavanaugh paraded through my thoughts. During an ostensible coffee break, I made an eleven o’clock tour of their company locations and looked meaningfully at each of them, but no one looked meaningfully back.
At six, the cock ring and I left for the evening. I wore it until I went to bed. My hand got very tired.
The second day another package said hello when I arrived. It was a little larger and softer but was also wrapped in blue and white with a small card on top. Happy Hanukkah it repeated, adding Wear me today. I opened and closed the tissue quickly. I had seen a jock strap inside, and it looked used. I scanned our office bay for hidden cameras, waited five minutes, and then thought why not?
I took the package to the men’s room. Back in the same stall, I held the jock up for a second look. It was white, or had been, and, yes, there were yellow stains on the crotch. Thinking about sharing cock space with another man made me horny. I rushed out of my slacks and boxers and slid the jock up my legs. The cup was tight around my cock and balls. The straps bit into my ass. The waistband was my size. Hmm.
That night, I introduced my first two gifts to each other. They played together nicely.
Wednesday, I arrived a half hour earlier than usual, but the package still beat me to my desk. This one was bigger yet, pliant but semi-hard. So was I. I ripped into it. A black leather vest. Kinky. And expensive. Was I being bought? Yes, I answered, and took my jacket off. The vest felt a little tight over my undershirt, dress shirt, and tie.
That night in the privacy of my own ten by ten studio apartment (plus the kitchenette), I dressed up in all three presents and stared at the full-length hanging mirror that came with the lease. One look proved you could take the Midwest out of the boy…
If you are an anthology fan, I think you will really enjoy this one. I’m not going to review each story individually, but I will say that there is a nice diversity of characters and settings. There are interesting pairings–from a survivor of molestation in the church meeting the new Father What-A-Waste (that’s what the gals called sexy young priests back in my parish). Or the grieving partner who makes an unlikely connection visiting his lover’s grave. Or a tongue-tied. mid 30s, white accountant who inexplicably falls for the barely-legal Mexican tree salesman at the local nursery.
There are moments of heat, but not every story has them. There are definitely fade-to-black and implied intimacy parts, so steam is not a big factor in these stories. Instead, I think what ties all of these stories together is an unusual meet-cute coupled with a building connection. Though the stories are short, the time frame for each can span several months to a year, in some cases. So it’s not all about immediate gratification, even if the narrator would sometimes like that. You can expect the majority of these couples to talk to one another, to determine if they have compatible interests before they pursue something physical.
I do have a personal preference for novels, but these novella-length stories are just right for quick reads while commuting by bus or train, or during a brief downtime between video meetings, these days. You can pretty much expect a happy ending/happy for now ending from each of the stories, but do not expect them to build on one another. One might be a little spicy, and the next might be decidedly mild, in terms of sexual heat. But the connections will be strong and present, and the guys will find the right person for them in that moment and for the foreseeable future. Very enjoyable, and especially recommend to people who crave solid, but short, reads.
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About the Author:
Richard May’s short fiction has been published in his collections Inhuman Beings: Monsters, Myths, and Science Fiction and Ginger Snaps: Photos & Stories (with photographer David Sweet) and numerous anthologies and literary periodicals. Rick also organizes two book readings at San Francisco bookstores, the Word Week annual literary festival, and the online book club Reading Queer Authors Lost to AIDS. He lives in San Francisco.