Thursday, August 31, 2017

Throwback Thursday: Jessie and Kai, When Enemies became Lovers

Today I'm looking back at The Distance, book 11 in the Firsts and Forever Series. This is Jessie's story. I loved him from the moment I introduced him in the series, and I was so happy to give him his own book and a sweet happily ever after!


Here's my inspiration photo for Kai, Jessie's love interest:


So sexy! He was named by one of my readers, by the way, a kind, lovely woman named Anita, who lives in Australia. I now refer to her as Kai's godmother. :)

Kai and Jessie start out as enemies. They're rival street racers, and Jessie blames Kai (who he knows only by his racing name, Trigger, at first) for playing dirty and wrecking Jessie's car in a head-to-head drag race. Kai sees things very differently. In the following scene from The Distance, the spark ignites between our two main characters:

Trigger was dressed in a tight, black tank top and worn-out jeans, and was washing his hands in an industrial sink when I came in. The shop’s interior was spotless and well-maintained, in sharp contrast to the outside. His Mustang and two black, late sixties Impalas were lined up on the far side of the concrete floor. The Stang’s hood was up, and an empty paper coffee cup and a greasy shop rag decorated its fender.

 To say he was surprised to see me was a major understatement. Trigger’s brown eyes went wide and he blurted, “What the fuck are you doing here?”

“I want an apology. I also want a rematch, but first we have to find a track with a concrete barrier down the center to keep you from coming at me again.”

He raised an eyebrow. “If you think I’m capable of purposely trying to wreck your car, why would you come here? I mean, according to you, I’m guilty of attempted murder. I also must have the reflexes of a cobra, since I managed to hit your careening car in the split second that your tire blew out. Yet here you are, strolling into the lair of someone who’d have to be a complete sociopath, given your accusations.”

“I don’t think you meant to hurt me. You’re a dick, not a psycho. You probably just wanted to knock my car out of commission. But that’s still incredibly dangerous and a really shitty thing to do to someone, so would it kill you to say you’re sorry? Just once? Would those words make you shrivel up and die, right here on the concrete?”

His voice rose as he exclaimed, “Why would I apologize when you hit me?”

“Oh yeah. I swerved right, hit you, and then my car went flying off to the left, where it rolled half a dozen times. Because physics works like that!”

“Sure it does, when we’re talking about your little Fisher Price car ricocheting off a solid metal object!” He stormed over to his Mustang, picked up the paper coffee cup and said, “Here’s a demonstration so you can understand this once and for all. This cup will stand in for your toy car, since they weigh about the same. My Mustang will be playing herself in this reenactment. I’m driving along, minding my own business, but then your tire explodes and oh, look!” He threw the cup at the Ford’s fender, and it bounced off and rolled across the floor. “See that? That’s exactly what happened! Cause and effect. You hit me, you bounced off, and the stupid embankment on the side of the road acted like a ramp, so you went airborne and then you rolled. I’m sure that sucked, I’m sure it was scary as shit, but what it wasn’t was my fucking fault.”

“Thank you for that brilliant reenactment, and your point would have been made spectacularly, except for the fact that I was actually driving something made by Mazda and not by fucking Dixie.”

“Whatever. My car weighed twice as much as yours, so the result was the same.”

“Except that here’s what actually happened,” I said, marching over to the coffee cup. “You hit me, and my car did this.” I stomped on the cup and flattened it. “And yet, somehow, saying you’re sorry is just asking way the hell too much from you!”

Trigger’s voice rose again. “Fine. I’m sorry you hit me. I am, actually. It sucks that you got hurt, and that you wrecked your shitty toy car. But you were what caused all of that!”

“Asshole!”

“Fucking stop blaming me!”

“No, because you’re to blame!”

Trigger threw his hands in the air and yelled, “You refuse to see this from anything but your own misguided perspective!”

“So do you!”

“Get the fuck out of my shop. I’m so sick of you and your kind!”

“My kind!” I narrowed my eyes at him. “Don’t tell me you’re also a homophobe, as if just being a regular asshole wasn’t enough!”

“You’re gay?”

“Duh!”

“Well, how was I supposed to know that? It’s not like you’re wearing a sign around your neck.”
I said flatly, “No, just three beaded necklaces.”

He waved his hand dismissively and said, “That doesn’t mean anything.” Okay, he had a point there.
I asked, “So, if you didn’t mean gay people when you said ‘my kind’, what label were you trying to stick to me?”

“Spoiled brats who fix up their cars on mommy and daddy’s dime. Was your Civic a high school graduation present?”

I stared at him and said, “Dude, I’m twenty-four.”

“Oh, come on! There’s no way we’re the same age.”

“Are you ever right about anything? I mean anything at all?”

“It’s impossible that you’re twenty-four. You barely look old enough to shave!”

I rolled my eyes and pulled my driver’s license from my wallet, then went up to him and held it in front of his face. “Satisfied?”

Trigger grinned and said, “That’s the worst fake ID I’ve ever seen.”

“Based on what?”

“You called yourself Jessie James, and spelled Jessie with an i-e.”

“Granted, I’ve regretted that last name, and I’ll probably change it again, but the ID’s not fake.”

“What do you mean, change it again?”

“I legally changed my name a few years ago, because the one my parents gave me completely sucked.”

“What could possibly be worse than Jessie-with-an-i-e James?”

“None of your damn business,” I said as I shoved the license back in my wallet and returned it to my pocket. “Neither is this, but James was my middle name. That’s why I used it. It wasn’t because I have a great love of bank-robbing outlaws.”

He chuckled and said, “Wow, you’re kind of insane.”

“And you’re an asshole. Which is worse?”

“Oh, okay. I’m an asshole because I won’t buy in to your delusions and tell you what you want to hear.”

“No, you’re an asshole because you’re an asshole.”

Trigger knit his dark brows. “That’s enough name-calling for one night. Go home, Jessie James.”

“Sure,” I said, my stubbornness flaring, “just as soon as you apologize for ramming my car and making me crash last year and for running a dirty race tonight!”

His voice rose again, and so did the color in his cheeks. “It’s not unusual for cars to swerve at those speeds when they’re in the straight-away, and sometimes they bump into each other! If you can’t understand those basic facts, you have no business racing!”

“Oh no. Do not try to explain racing to me! I’ve been doing this most of my life! That’s how I know the difference between an unintentional drift and the crap you pull when you’re on the track!”

 “You don’t know shit, and I told you to get out.”

“Not until you fucking apologize!” He grabbed my upper arm and started to tow me to the side door, and I yelled, “Let go of me!”

He went right on pulling me across the shop. “No matter what I say, you just won’t listen. You think you know everything! You think you know me, but you don’t have a fucking clue!”

“I said let go of me!” I tried to yank my arm from his grasp and hip-checked him fairly hard in the process. That threw him off balance, and he fell over and pulled me down with him. Trigger rolled over so he was straddling me, and I swore at him and almost slapped him as I flailed around and tried to free myself.

He caught my wrists and pinned them to the floor on either side of my head as he exclaimed, “Just calm down!” When I finally stopped struggling, we stared at each other for a long moment as I caught my breath and my heart raced.


Without warning, lust shot through me like a jolt from a defibrillator. When Trigger let go of my wrists, I grabbed the front of his shirt and pulled him to me. In the next instant, we were kissing wildly. I rolled over so I was on top of him and devoured his mouth, and he ran his hands down my back and grabbed my ass. I had absolutely no explanation for what was happening. None at all. I went with it anyway.


*****

Ahhhh I love those two! From that rough beginning, they went on to be the sweetest couple, and later a family. 

Next up in the series is Take a Chance on Me. It's Quinn's story (who we met in the last book in the series, All I Ever Wanted). It should be out in late September/early October, exact release date TBA.

Thanks for reading! 



Thursday, August 24, 2017

Throwback Thursday: The Most Personal Thing I've Ever written

A few years ago, I received an email from a reader, which included a request. He asked me to consider writing a character who was HIV-positive, like himself, because he very rarely saw his story represented in the MM romances he read. 

It was something I'd wanted to do for a long time, but I hadn't been able to go there, because it hit too close to home. I lost one of my best friends to complications from the AIDS virus in the mid-nineties. Even though decades have passed, I still feel that loss as if it happened last week. But when I got that email, I knew it was time for me to face this subject.

I'm occasionally moved to tears while writing emotional parts of my books, but I've never cried harder than when I wrote the following scene. This is from Who I Used to Be, book 12 in the Firsts and Forever Series. Later on, a character in the book is diagnosed with HIV. But in this scene, the two main characters, Zachary and TJ, are visiting the AIDS Memorial Grove in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. The names and a few identifying details have been changed, but this scene is drawn directly from my life. My friend and his brother are memorialized in the Grove. I'll include a few photos of this place, which is absolutely sacred to me, at the end of this post:

When we finally returned to the car, he hesitated, then turned to look at me. “There’s something I do every time I come to Golden Gate Park. I almost hate to mention it, because we’ve been having so much fun and it’s…well, it’s beautiful and important, but it’s also pretty sobering.”

“The AIDS Memorial Grove?” I guessed.

He nodded. “Two people who meant the world to me are memorialized in the Circle of Friends. I always make a point of paying my respects.”

“We have to do that,” I said.

It wasn’t far from the lake, but we chose to drive. TJ parked on the street and we walked up to the grove hand-in-hand. The sun was just beginning to set, and we had the place to ourselves. The ring of redwood trees around the memorial cast long shadows. Nestled between them, the memorial was carved out in concrete and stone. It was surrounded by thick, lush landscaping that seemed to shelter and protect the names within.

A lump formed in my throat as TJ led me to a spot he obviously knew well and knelt down. I knelt with him. Name after name after name radiated out from a central point, like ripples in a pond. He brushed his fingers over letters etched into one of the inner rings and said, “John Robertson was my best friend. He died just two months after his brother David.” He reached out and ran his fingers over another nearby name, and a tear splashed onto the memorial. “When I got out of prison, I moved to San Francisco not knowing a soul. I ended up answering a ‘roommate wanted’ ad on a community bulletin board in the Castro. John and I became best friends almost immediately.

 “The whole time I knew him, he was dying of AIDS. It was a different time back then, in the mid-nineties. The disease was a death sentence, not like now. John was considered a long-term survivor, because he’d lived with it for seven years when I met him, but his health was deteriorating fast and he knew it. My God though, the way he embraced every day, every minute! He lived more in the two years I knew him than most people do in eighty. He celebrated anything and everything. He was passionate and joyful, and I was so damn lucky to know him.

“I became close friends with his brother, too. He moved in with us the last six months of his life. John not only had to watch his brother die, he also had to see the fate that awaited him.”

TJ paused for a moment and took a deep breath. “David was skin and bones at the end. His cheeks were hollow, and his eyes were sunken. It was such an effort to speak, and he was in a wheelchair because he was too weak to walk. But he’d still crack jokes, and he’d try to make other people smile. David had this hot pink scarf with gold thread running through it. He’d have me tie it around his head, and then he’d ask me, ‘Do I look fabulous, Trevor James Dean?’ He loved my full name and insisted on using it. I always told him he looked beautiful, and that made him happy. He was wearing his scarf when he died. John and I buried him with it.”

Tears streamed down his face. TJ took another moment before continuing, so quietly, “And then…then the light went out in Johnnie’s eyes. It was like, once his brother was gone, my best friend stopped fighting. He knew death was chasing him, and he quit running.”

TJ swallowed hard and said, “When he caught the flu, we both knew it was the beginning of the end. He hadn’t deteriorated the way his brother did, but he’d always had asthma so his lungs weren’t very strong to begin with. The disease reminded me of a predator, zeroing in on his weakness, his vulnerability. When he caught the flu, he couldn’t recover. His lungs just gave out.

“I remember standing at his bedside in the hospital, watching what was left of my best friend. I knew death was coming for him that night. I felt it. I was holding his hand when he died. One minute he was there, and the next he just wasn’t anymore. I don’t know what I expected. Maybe something dramatic, the way it is in the movies. But there was nothing. He just went away.”

He pushed to his feet, and I went with him, clutching his hand. TJ whispered, “His name was John Aaron Robertson. He was thirty-six years old when he died, and he was kind, and he was gorgeous inside and out, and he was amazing. He loved his friends, and he loved life like no one I’ve ever met before or after. He was way too fucking young to die, and the world got a little colder and grayer and less beautiful when he left it.” TJ stooped down, kissed his fingertips, and pressed them to John’s name. He did the same for David, then stood up and took a deep, shaky breath.

I pulled him into my arms and we held each other for a long time. When we finally let go a little, he rested his forehead against mine and reached up with both hands to brush the tears from my cheeks. He said softly, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you cry. I just wanted to tell their story. I think that’s important. As long as their memory lives on, they’re not gone. Not really.”

*****

This is the AIDS Memorial Grove




If you're ever in San Francisco, please stop by and pay your respects to the scores of people memorialized in the Grove, including my friend. His name was Jim. He was thirty-six years old when he died, and he was kind, and he was gorgeous inside and out, and he was amazing. He loved his friends, and he loved life like no one I’ve ever met before or after. He was way too fucking young to die, and the world got a little colder and grayer and less beautiful when he left it. 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Throwback Thursday: Zachary and TJ's Fantastic Beasts

Many of my Firsts and Forever couples hold a special place in my heart, including Zachary and TJ, the main characters in Who I Used to Be, book 12 in the series.


Love found them when they least expected it, and I thought the way they supported each other was beautiful. TJ was totally there for Zachary when he hit rock bottom, and toward the end of the book, they changed places. Zachary provided support to TJ when he needed it most, showing not only how strong they were as a couple, but how far Zachary had come over the course of his story.

I also loved the fantastic wind-up toys TJ taught Zachary to make. When I was writing Who I Used to Be, the upcycled animals and fantasy creatures were strictly a product of my imagination. But after the book came out, readers started sending me photos of what they imagined the wind-up toys to look like. More often than not, the work they sent me was that of artist Sue Beatrice of All Natural Arts, as pictured here:





I don't think all of Ms. Beatice's artworks are wind-ups, but the overall look, especially that dragon in the bottom photo, is very much what I pictured when I was imagining what TJ and Zachary might create. As I've mentioned before, I have a great deal of respect and admiration for people in the arts, which is why write so many artists. I also think there's something magical about starting with what others consider junk and turning it into art (as in the the scrap metal that Skye works with, or the obsolete electronics TJ scavenges for parts). 

Next week, I'll be talking about another, very personal aspect of Who I Used to Be. Thanks for reading!



Thursday, August 10, 2017

Throwback Thursday: The Big Guy in the Background

I've been hard at work on Quinn's story. It's called Take a Chance on Me, and I'm hoping to have it out by late September. As you probably recall, we met River's free-spirited roommate Quinn for the first time in All I Ever Wanted, the most recent book in the series, which came out in June.

Quinn's love interest, a police officer named Duke, had a small role in the last book as Cole's uptight roommate, but that wasn't the first time we've met him. He works with Finn Nolan, and as you may recall, Finn met and fell in love with Chance in Coming Home (book 9 in the Firsts and Forever Series).



Here's a quick scene with Duke from Coming Home, when Chance goes to the police station to return Finn's money before leaving town:

I went up to the huge, muscle-bound police officer with a crew cut behind the front counter and put the brown envelope in front of him as I said, “Could you please make sure Finn Nolan gets that? It’s important.”

He frowned a little as he got to his feet and said in a deep voice, “I can’t accept that for security reasons.” God lord, the guy had to be about six-eight.

“Oh! Shit, I didn’t think of that. Look, it’s not, like, anything harmful. That’s just something that belongs to him and I need to give it back.” I pulled out my wallet and showed him my driver’s license. “Here’s my I.D. If I was a terrorist or something, I wouldn’t show that to you. Please, just give the envelope to Finn. It’s really important.”

The guy glanced at my I.D. and looked surprised. “Your name’s Chance.”

“Yeah.”

“Finn mentioned you.”

Now it was my turn to look surprised. “He did?”

The cop nodded as I put away my wallet. “I don’t think he meant to. I’m not always behind a desk, usually he and I patrol together. He was smiling about something and staring out the window of the squad car a couple weeks ago. Looked like he was a million miles away. When I asked what he was so happy about, he said, ‘Chance.’ I asked who that was and he got really flustered and changed the subject. What are you to him?”

“A friend.”

The big officer knit his brows and studied me for a moment. Finally he asked, “What’s in the envelope?”

“It’s personal.”

He picked it up and weighed it in his hands, then said, “There’s a lot of cash in there.”

I hadn’t been expecting that, and no way was I going to tell him the envelope held twenty-two thousand dollars. There was just no explaining that much money. Instead I thought quickly and said, “You’re right. That’s nearly eight hundred dollars in small bills. Finn loaned me some money and I’m paying him back. You can see why I didn’t want to put it in the mail.”

The cop considered that, still studying me carefully, and asked, “What was the loan for?”

“A car repair. My Honda’s older than I am. It needed a whole new transmission.” I was completely bullshitting, but he seemed to buy it.

 After another moment, he picked up the phone and hit a button, then spoke into it, saying, “Come up to the front desk for a minute.” He hung up without waiting for a reply and told me, “Most people would have written a check. It’s not a good idea to carry a bunch of cash around.”

“You’re right.”

“Why aren’t you giving this back to him in person?”

“Because I’m heading out of town and won’t see him again before I go.” I actually got to tell the truth that time.

Someone came up behind the cop, and a familiar voice said, “We talked about this, Duke. Don’t just call people and then hang up without telling them why they’re being summoned. I mean, I don’t care, but it ticks off our coworkers.”

“Sorry,” the big cop said, turning and putting the envelope in Finn’s hands. “Your friend’s here. He wanted to give you that.”

Finn looked shocked when the cop moved aside and he spotted me, but he replaced it a moment later with a halfway decent poker face. “Thanks, Duke. I’m going to walk my friend out. I’ll be right back.”

*****

But believe it or not, Duke goes back even farther than that in the Firsts and Forever Series! Here he is in a quick scene from Against the Wall, book 7. Christian is visiting his love interest Shea at the same police station on Christmas, and he brought a big box of Chinese food for all the officers on duty:

I popped a shrimp in my mouth before asking, “Is it always this quiet, or do the bad guys take time off at Christmas?”

“It comes and goes in waves. We were really busy earlier, and sadly, we’ll be extremely busy tonight.”

“How do you know?”

“It happens every year. Domestic violence always increases on holidays.”

“Wow, that’s terrible. Why is that, do you suppose?”

“A lot of reasons. The holidays are emotionally draining, for one thing. There’s a lot of drinking and plenty of stress, which just adds to the mix. Plus, people are home at the holidays, so there’s simply more opportunity for an incident to occur.”

“Wow, Christmas through the eyes of a police officer. Not terribly cheery, is it?”

“Cheery isn’t a word I’d usually use to describe my job.”

A huge cop with a crew cut came up to us just then and put down a paper plate with homemade sugar cookies. “I didn’t catch your name,” he said in a deep voice.

“Christian.”

“I’m Duke. Thanks for bringing in that feast, it beat the hell out of the sandwich I’d packed for myself. Thought you guys might like some cookies, I made ‘em myself.”

“Thanks,” I said. “They look really good.”

“I called my mom for her recipe, but somehow they don’t taste as good as hers. Anyway, Merry Christmas and thanks again.”

“You’re welcome.”

When Duke left, Shea smiled at me. “That’s the most I’ve ever heard him say willingly. Normally, you can barely get more than a one-word answer out of him.”

“You should have plied him with Chinese food a lot sooner.”

“Apparently. Oh, and that’s one of the good aspects of my job, by the way.”

“Getting to work with giant men who bake cookies in the shape of tiny Christmas trees?”

Shea smiled at me. “The sense of camaraderie. Granted, everyone’s a bit cranky today because they’d rather be home, but still.”

*****

It delights me to no end that this minor character, the big guy in the background, basically, is getting his turn in the spotlight! I always thought it'd be fun to develop his character and find out what makes the giant, baking cop tick, and now I have my chance! I initially paired straight-laced Duke with wild child Quinn because I thought the odd couple dynamic would be fun, but they've been surprising me in the best possible way. 

I think Quinn himself says it best in these lines from the upcoming book: "At first, I’d only seen our differences. But we were the same, in so many ways. Here, finally, was someone who might truly understand me. By the same token, I thought I understood him in a way few people could."

I'm looking forward to getting this book into your hands, so you too can discover how two men who seem vastly different find a kindred spirit in the most unlikely place. <3





Thursday, August 3, 2017

Throwback Thursday: When Nico Met Luca

Nico Dombruso is the main character in All I Believe, book 10 in the Firsts and Forever Series. Over the course of the story, he falls in love with art dealer Luca Caruso, who he meets while on vacation in Sicily. But it turns out the two men have met before. In fact, they were each other's first kiss back when they were teens, and neither has ever been able to forget his "boy at the fountain".


In the following scene from All I Believe, Nico has just returned to Sicily on a vacation with his grandmother, and he's looking out at the fountain from his hotel room in the middle of the night:

I leaned on the balcony’s iron railing and stared at the fountain for a while. Then on impulse, I checked my pocket for my room key and left the suite. The hotel was perfectly still. Downstairs, the lone clerk behind the front desk glanced at me before turning his attention back to a computer screen. I cut through the lobby, pushed open the heavy door and crossed the worn cobblestones to the fountain.

It had seemed huge when I was younger, and it really was quite large. Disproportionately so, actually, for that not particularly grand piazza. The round base was easily twenty-five feet in diameter. In its center, three bigger-than-life horses bucked and reared up on their hind legs, ridden by angels with outstretched wings. I sat on the wide edge of the fountain and ran my hand over it. The stone was smooth and cool to the touch.

All of it was familiar: the smell of the sea and of the baking bread in the shop just a few feet away, the light breeze on my skin, the sound of the water splashing in the fountain. It was exactly as it had been on another August night, years ago.

I’d been fourteen. My parents had talked about bringing my brother and sister and me to Viladembursa for years, since we had a lot of relatives there and a family history that went back to the town’s founding. There was always some reason the trip got postponed. Often it was because of my dad’s job, which didn’t give him much time off. But that summer, we’d finally made it. I didn’t know it would be our last vacation as a family at the time.

My fourteenth summer was when everything changed. That was when Dad stopped living with us. It was when I heard my mom cry for the first time, and my brother started getting in trouble at school and eventually was sent to live with relatives in New York. It was when my sister started caring about her friends far more than her family and turned into someone I barely recognized. But our trip to Sicily happened just before all of that, and had come to symbolize the end of my childhood. It also encompassed my most precious memory.

I’d gotten up far too early on the last day of our family vacation, the day we were going to fly home to Marin County. Dawn was just beginning to color the horizon as I slipped out of my family’s suite and went down to the fountain. I wanted to say goodbye to the stone horses. I had gotten attached to them during my two weeks in Viladembursa. I was weird like that.

I closed my eyes and remembered that morning twelve years ago. It felt exactly like this one, the same sounds and smells, the same breeze stirring my hair. I’d replayed it a thousand times and did it again as I sat in the town square, watching it like a movie in my mind’s eye:

“What exactly are you doing?” The conversation had begun in Italian, but when I replayed it, I heard it in English, a trick of time and memory.

I’d jumped at the voice behind me, and turned to face a tall, thin, good-looking boy with thick black hair and a quick smile that showed off a chipped front tooth. “Nothing,” I answered automatically, feeling a blush warming my cheeks.

“You were talking to someone, but no one’s here.”

“No I wasn’t.”

“Were you talking to the angels in the fountain, and if so, do they answer?”

“Of course not,” I’d said indignantly. “I was talking to the horses.”

Instead of laughing at me as I’d expected, the boy just asked, “Why?”

“Because I like them, and after today it’ll be a long time before I see them again.”

“So you’ve come to say goodbye.” I nodded and the boy grew serious. “Where are you going?”

“Home to California.”

He switched to perfect English at that point and said, “Oh. You’re American.”

I also switched to English. “Yeah. You too?”

He shrugged, which made one of the straps on his oversized tank top slip off his shoulder. I noticed three fairly prominent freckles in perfect alignment on his left collarbone, dark against his olive skin. “I’m not anything. I’m a citizen of the world.”

“What does that mean?”

“Mom and I travel around a lot. No place is really home. Or everyplace is, depending on how you look at it.”

“It’s too bad I’m leaving.”

His expression grew thoughtful, and I looked up into his eyes. They were light, but I couldn’t quite make out the color in the soft illumination from the street lamps that ringed the plaza. “Don’t you want to go home?”

I’d pushed my glasses further up the bridge of my nose and said, “I did. But, well, you seem like a nice guy and I have a feeling I would have liked getting to know you.”

“Based on what?”

“The fact that you didn’t laugh at me for talking to stone horses. Any guy that doesn’t make fun of me for something like that is clearly friend material.”

“But if you stayed, I wouldn’t want to be your friend.”

“Oh.” I stepped back awkwardly and looked at the cobblestones.

He went right along with me and tilted my chin up with a gentle touch until I was looking at him again. “I didn’t mean it like that. I meant I’d want to be more.” As I tried to make sense of that, the boy cleared his throat and broke eye contact. When he looked at me again, he asked, “Would you find it weird if a guy told you you’re beautiful?”

“Yes.”

Now it was his turn to step back, releasing my chin and dropping his hand to his side. “Sorry,” he mumbled, clearly embarrassed.

“I wouldn’t think it was weird because a guy said it,” I quickly amended. “I’d think it was weird if anyone said that about me.”

He looked at me through thick lashes, and a little smile returned to his full lips. “You don’t think you’re beautiful?”

“Dude, what planet are you from that you’d think that, Krypton?”

The boy chuckled and lightly traced the frame of my thick, black glasses. “Clearly you’re the one from Krypton, Clark Kent.” He took them off and placed them beside us on the edge of the fountain. “Can you see without those?”

“Only close up. Everything more than a foot away is a blur.”

He stepped forward, so that our bodies were only a few inches apart. “Can you see me, Clark?”

I nodded and said, “If I’m Clark Kent, then who are you?”

“I always fancied myself as a Bruce Wayne type.” A slight British accent slipped in when he said that.

“Wow, modest,” I said with a big grin. “Rich, handsome, brilliant. Is that how you’d describe yourself?”

“Well, obviously!” He beamed at me and held his thin arms out to the sides, as if to display his worn out tank top, cut-off jeans and very Italian leather sandals.

“You’re a master of disguise, Bruce,” I told him. “No one will suspect you’re a billionaire playboy in that ensemble.”

“Barefoot boys in pajamas shouldn’t judge other people by their clothes,” he said, his eyes sparkling.
I looked down at my white t-shirt and plaid pajama pants and said, “I totally forgot I was wearing this.” 

“I like it. Makes you look a little like you just escaped from the nut house. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and all that. It’s a good look for you.”

“First you call me Superman, then you call me a mental patient. You have an interesting approach to making conversation.”

I started to reach for my glasses, but he caught my hand and held on to it. “No, don’t. Not yet.”

“Why not?”

“Because it’s easier to see your eyes if you leave your glasses off. What color are they? I can only tell that they’re dark.”

“They’re brown,” I told him. “Like mud.”

“I bet they’re gorgeous and decidedly un-mud-like. You’ll have to stay with me until the sun comes up, so you can prove me right.”

I grinned again and said, “I have no idea what to make of you, Bruce. That sounds like such a line. I’d almost think you were hitting on me.”

“Almost? The fact that I’m holding your hand in the middle of the town square doesn’t make that a definitely?”

“You’re not really holding my hand, you’re just trying to keep me from my glasses.” I started to reach for them with my other hand, but he caught that too and held it.

“I’m doing both simultaneously.”

“I’ll take them off again when the sun comes up, if you’re actually interested in seeing my eye color.”
“That’s not the only reason I want you to leave them off. As long as you’re not wearing them, I’m literally the only thing you can see, right?” When I nodded, he said, “I like that. I like being your whole world.”

I chuckled embarrassedly. “You’re an odd person, Bruce.”

“I know.” He shifted his weight from foot to foot and said, “Since you don’t think it’s odd that a guy called you beautiful and seem to have no problem with him holding your hand, how would you feel about him kissing you?”

My heart leapt at that, and I looked around automatically. I couldn’t actually see the plaza, but I knew we were all alone. “Is that, um, I mean, are you planning on that?” I stammered, stalling for time as my thoughts and emotions ricocheted wildly. I’d always been pretty sure I was gay, but I’d never acted on it. I’d gotten the impression it was something I was supposed to keep secret, but here was this guy, talking about kissing me like it was the most natural thing in the world.

“Only if I think it won’t result in me getting punched in the face.” He tried to make it sound like a joke, but obviously it held some real concern.

“It wouldn’t,” I managed as my heart raced. The conversation felt a bit surreal. I’d wondered at the time if I was dreaming. In the years afterwards, I wondered how much of it I misremembered as time passed.

The words might have been distorted and embellished over time, but there were two things I remembered with absolute clarity: the boy, and that kiss. As the sunrise colored the sky pink and orange, he leaned in and brushed his lips to mine, gently, tentatively. When I responded, he kissed me with a little more confidence as my heart pounded. He cupped my face between his palms, and my hands automatically went to his waist, holding on to him as if trying to ground myself.

It was my first kiss, and it was also the moment I knew with absolute, unshakable certainty that I was gay. It felt so right, so utterly perfect, that it left no room for doubt. The kiss went on for a long time, both of us melting into each other. It might have lasted for hours if we hadn’t been startled by the baker, who opened the side door of his shop and pushed a big, clanking metal rack out onto the cobblestones.

I stepped back quickly and grabbed my glasses, pushing them in place as a delivery truck bounced and rattled into the square. The boy stepped back too, blushing shyly. When he looked at me, I said softly, “They’re green. I’d wondered what color your eyes were.”

“Yours look like a wildfire, seen through a bottle of Coke. I knew they weren’t mud-colored.”

I chuckled at that description. We stood there awkwardly for a few moments, and then I murmured, “I have to go. My family’s probably awake by now and they’ll wonder where I am.”

“Not yet. Just five more minutes, please?”

“I really should get back.”

He grinned mischievously and took my hand. “You can’t go yet. You haven’t said goodbye properly.”

“Goodbye. It was great meeting you.”

“Not to me. To them,” he said, tilting his head toward the fountain.

I burst out laughing when he jumped into the water and started to drag me in with him. As I exclaimed, “What are you doing? We’re going to get in trouble,” I leaned back and dug my heels in.

“Totally worth it. Come say goodbye to the celestial rodeo.”

“It does look like a rodeo! I can’t believe I never saw that before!” He scooped me up in his arms, carried me into the fountain and put me down beside one of the horses while I flailed and protested. 

“Oh my God, the water’s freezing!” I shouted as it soaked into my pajama pants.

“You’ll get used to it after a minute,” he said. “Now tell me, what’s this horse’s name?”

I forgot the cold and looked up at the bucking bronco. “Zeke.”

The boy burst out laughing. “Why Zeke?”

“I dunno. Seemed like a rodeo name. The other two are Clem and Billy Joe Bob.”

“You’ve never been to a rodeo, have you?”

“Hell no. Have you?”

“I’ve been to a bullfight,” he said. “It’s kind of similar.”

“It’s not at all!” While we debated the parallels between bullfighting and rodeos, I waded around the fountain to each of the three huge horses and gave them a hug. I then splashed over to the side of the fountain and crawled over the wide ledge. When I looked back at my companion, he was leaning against one of the horses with his arm around its hind leg. I grinned and said, “Aren’t you coming out?”

“In a minute.”

“I really have to go. I don’t want my mom to worry if she wakes up and sees I’m not there.”

“I know.”

I hesitated and said, “I hate to say goodbye.”

“This isn’t goodbye, it’s just so long for now. I don’t know when or where, but I’ll see you again someday, Clark.”

“I hope you’re right.”

He smiled at me and said, “Oh, I am. I’m always right about everything. You and I are meant to be, I’m sure of it.”

“Think so?”


He nodded. “Absolutely. Who else besides Bruce Wayne would be good enough for Clark Kent?”

*****

We got a brief check-in with Nico in Armor, the novella I published earlier this year, and he and Luca will both be back in a supporting role in Mike Dombruso's book, which I'll be writing after Take a Chance on Me. Quinn's book is coming right along, by the way, and I hope to publish it in late September. After that, it's time to turn the focus on the Dombruso family, with Nico and Luca as well as Gianni and Zan from Belonging all coming back for a substantial check-in.