To celebrate Talk Like a Pirate Day I wrote a short story to share with everyone.
First Officer and pirate Brian Owen has secrets. Some secrets he has to keep from everyone. Some he keeps from the two men he loves most in the world. When Owen’s past collides violently with his present, all his secrets are revealed and everyone he loves is at risk. While his ship is attacked and sunk, Owen has to decide whether to save the family he misses or the one he’s made since.
Find it on my website: www.eemontgomery.com.
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Keyfer wrapped his fist with the tape, then turned his head, cracking the bones in his neck. He looked across the sawdust of the Wishborne Arena at his opponent. The big bastard was at least a foot taller than Keyf and twice as broad. He was pale and bald with a fat ginger mustache in contrast to the young pirate’s long, auburn hair, slight frame, and sun-goldened skin. Keyfer readied himself for the big man’s first punch. Someone barked Keyf’s name and his opponent’s as well, Dronson.
The two men circled the arena, their fists raised before their eyes. Keyfer eyed Dronson, noticing the man’s mouth quirk beneath his mustache. A tell. Keyf ducked as the man swung his fist, driving a punch to Dronson’s barrel-like ribcage.
“Ha. Good one, pirate.” Dronson smirked and bounced around the ring. Keyf remained silent, not taking his opponent’s bait. Keyf threw a punch with his left hand, and Dronson slapped it away. Keyf followed with a right that Dronson blocked as well. Then the big man countered with a right hook that caught Keyfer on the shoulder. Dronson underestimated his own reach. Keyf shook off the blow and dashed forward with two quick punches to Dronson’s midsection. Before he could drop back, the big man brought a fist down on Keyf’s back, driving the pirate to his knees in the sawdust.
Keyf didn’t miss a beat and rolled away from his opponent. Dronson stamped at Keyfer as the pirate scrabbled around the arena. Dronson growled in frustration and lunged at the smaller, quicker man. Keyfer dodged, and Dronson kicked out, catching him in the stomach and forcing the breath from Keyf’s lungs. The crowd’s cheers were sprinkled with boos of disapproval. If Dronson wanted to fight dirty, Keyfer was ready to return the favor.
The pirate dashed up and slapped his larger opponent. Dronson grunted angrily and swung at Keyfer, who rolled away. From the sawdust, Keyf lashed out with his foot, catching the other man’s ankle and toppling him to the dirt. Keyfer loosed a chuckle that infuriated Dronson even more. The big, bald boxer dove for the smaller pirate, who stood up, crashing his skull into Dronson’s jaw. The other man blinked twice before collapsing to the sawdust. Keyfer threw his hands into the air as the crowd erupted with cheers. The men climbed over the rails and rushed the ring, hoisting Keyf onto their shoulders.
After the impromptu celebration, the arena master approached Keyf as the pirate dressed. “That was quite a show,” Blenter stated. “Well done, my son.”
“Isn’t there a prize for beating your gorilla?” Keyfer asked, pulling his wool coat from the bench.
“So there is. So there is,” Blenter answered, pulling a wad of bills from his waistcoat. He reluctantly counted out half and handed it over. “You ought to come back when Greymarrow’s here. That would be a fight I’d like to see.”
“Maybe,” Keyfer said noncommittally as he stuffed the bills in his overcoat. “I don’t know how much longer we’ll be here.” Keyfer walked out of the arena, wondering how his shipmates were faring with their interviews and inquiries. Wishborne’s arena had been a welcome distraction for the restless young buccaneer.
Out on the street, Keyfer pushed his way through the crowd looking for his friend and lover, Radish. The Alchemist Radley Timmons (Radish to his friends) had joined the crew of the Wayward Grace a few months ago and it wasn’t long before Keyfer fell for the bespectacled young man with the strawberry blond hair. Keyfer reached up and adjusted the rope holding his own messy brown locks in a ponytail that trailed between his shoulder blades. He wanted his hair out of his eyes so he could spot Radish easily.
Billy, captain of the Wayward Grace, and her two crewmen had come to this remote town seeking to hire a new magic user for their ship. They’d lost their last mage, Dill, a faerie spellweaver, in a terrible storm and subsequent crash. Though Keyf showed some latent aptitude for the mystic arts, he was unwilling to investigate that power for the time being.
Keyfer’s breath formed a cloud before his eyes as he pulled the collar of his wool coat up. The weather in Wishborne certainly wasn’t what the young pirate was used to. Wishborne lay hidden in the mountains between Anglica and Weylan. The inhospitable forests provided natural cover enhanced by wards and magic placed on them at various times by its wizarding founders. The crown looked upon magic as highly volatile and criminal, forcing most sorcerers and witches to hide their talents from the world at large. Wishborne existed as a place away from prying eyes where they could retreat for seclusion, without fear of repercussion.
The village had soon become a haven for the less scrupulous element of society. Bandits, highwaymen and other unsavory characters used Wishborne to disappear when their shenanigans landed them in the sights of their local constabulary. Faeries and the Fey Folk were a not uncommon sight on the Wishborne high street and Keyf had to sidestep to allow a pair of tiny hedgehogs dressed like the finest of gentleman to shuffle past.
He smiled as he thrust his hands into his coat pockets. The little Hedgehog men owned a shop of mystical objects and items that would aid in all manner of dishonest pursuits; amulets, rings of invisibility, and even a hand-shaped candle that froze everyone in a home while unlocking every door in the building. They had other less than savory items that could do all manner of unspeakable things to men but they kept those in a back room behind a thick dark curtain. Keyf had never visited that portion of their store, but he had entered numerous times just to look at the curiosities within. The price of the objects prevented him from actually buying anything in the little shop. He watched as the spiky proprietors opened their round, red door and entered their storefront. Although the door wasn’t always in the same spot each day, it was the only thing on the dreary street with any color, unfortunately the color of fresh blood.
Keyfer had to admit Wishborne may have once been a picturesque little village, looking like something plucked directly from an Anglican Faerie Tale, but it looked now like a child’s story with the innocence and soul drained away. The buildings were dark, drab and in most cases in need of serious repair. A foul smog sullied the air above the city and the streetlights burned constantly, some regular gaslights and others glowing a faint eldritch blue. Unsavory characters milled about on every corner. He wondered why they’d called it Wishborne, for it was more like a place where wishes came to die. Wishkill, Keyf thought and shivered.
Despite all the villains in such a small space, Wishborne remained quiet and civil with nearly no crime at all, unlike most other villages of its kind. Of course, breaking the law in Wishborne wouldn’t earn you a cell in a dreary dungeon. You’d more likely be set on fire, fed to a giant toad, or turned into a giant toad and forced to eat criminals. It could be some combination of the three as well. Everyone mostly kept to themselves or carried on polite conversations. Keyfer heard that the original founder had created a spell to protect the city that carried on to this day.
Keyfer turned in surprise when he heard the commotion start at the far end of the high street. He could see sparks and magic, lightning and bird feathers as the excitement rippled through the crowds of people on the streets.
“What’s the hullabaloo?” A familiar voice asked near Keyf’s jewelry-laden ear.
“I don’t know, Radish.” Keyf turned toward his friend. “Just started. Where’s Billy?”
“Still in the tavern,” Radish answered indicating the saloon behind him. “She’s settling up the tab.”
“Any luck?” Keyf asked.
“Quite a bit of luck, actually. All bad, I’m afraid.” Radish removed his delicate spectacles and cleaned them with his scarf. “She found a stuffy, old sorcerer but he’s not looking for a life of adventure on the high seas. Or above them for that matter. He just wants to sit in a drawing room reading books. A few months ago I might have agreed with him.” Radish smirked and then planted a quick kiss at the corner of Keyfer’s mouth.
“Bollocks,” Keyfer growled. “What—“ he didn’t finish the question because a woman screamed as the source of the disturbance rushed into view. A strange, lanky man ran out of the crowd on the sidewalk. His clothes were odd with bits of clockwork stuck to them, and he had traveling goggles perched atop his bright orange hair. Keyfer thought he might be a Faerie from the way he guffawed as he ran from what passed for the town guard: two empty suits of armor. They clanked after the man, firing spells at him from wooden staffs in their tarnished hands.
As the man passed Keyfer and Radish, he plucked Radish’s spectacles from his hands and continued running.
“Hey!” Radish called after him. “I need those.”
“Damn!” Keyfer wasted no time dashing after the odd thief. He heard Radish calling to him but knew without his spectacles, his friend would only slow him down. The stranger elbowed people out of his way as he continued careening down the street, the suits of armor in his wake. The stranger hurdled a cart of dodgy vegetables, and the first suit of armor attempted the same, catching its foot on the side and toppling to pieces on the ground.
The stranger grabbed a lamppost, spinning around it and kicking the other suit of armor. The pieces scattered on impact and the merry thief continued his mad dash. A grizzled older fellow dressed like one of the frontiersmen of Allied Libertannia stepped out of a shop only to have his hat snatched by the giggling stranger.
“Oi!” The old man growled and took up the chase just in front of Keyfer. Unfortunately, the stranger had just dashed around a large man with skin like stone, standing in front of the sweet shop. The old fellow crashed right into the giant of a man, causing the bigger man to drop the box of treats in his huge hands. The old stranger regained his footing quickly and continued after the thief.
“You made me drop my sweet rolls,” the stone man said as Keyfer dashed past him, the suits of armor in pieces around his pounding feet. It looked as if they were trying to reunite with themselves but Keyfer didn’t have time to pause and see if they’d manage it. He was right on the old man’s heels now, and he could hear a steady stream of curses as he ran. The old fellow pulled a clockwork pistol from under his coat and fired at the thief. The stranger ducked around the next corner into an alley.
“Got ‘im now,” the chasing man growled. “That alley’s a dead end.”
Keyfer wondered if the older bloke addressed him or spoke to himself. Either way, both pursuers turned the corner a moment later, surprised to find the alley empty. “What the hell?” Keyfer asked.
“Damn it!” The grizzled stranger dragged a hand through his long gray hair. “How’d he do that?”
“Magic?” Keyfer asked. Keyf sniffed the air. “Do you smell elderberries?”
“That wasn’t magic,” the older man stated confidently, pointing at the dead end. Keyfer was about to ask him how he could tell when the heavy sounds of drums filled the alley. Then Keyfer noticed the man’s hat sat on the cobblestones at the end of the alley with Radish’s spectacles resting on the brim. The man in the long leather coat stooped to pick up the spectacles. “These yours?”
“My friend’s,” Keyfer answered taking the delicate glasses. “Thanks.”
“Hey!” The stone man’s voice boomed from the entrance to the alley. “You made me drop my sweet rolls.”
“Hold on there, mate.” The old man held up his hands. “I’m sure we can straighten this out like proper gentlemen. Um, or gentletrolls, as it were.”
Troll? Keyfer thought. That’s a troll? As the old fellow retrieved his hat, Keyf stared at the first troll he’d ever seen. The troll’s stony brows rose in shock and then turned down with anger.
“Aw shite,” the grey haired man spat, and Keyfer turned to see a pristine sweet roll sitting on the street just beneath the poor bastard’s hat.
“You stole my sweet roll!” the troll bellowed.
“Aw shite.” Keyfer echoed the stranger’s sentiment. The troll stormed into the alley and with a hand like a gravestone batted Keyf out of the way. He flew against the wall of the alleyway and bounced off, landing hard on the cobblestones.
“Keyfer!” Billy shouted from the street. Keyf took his eyes off the old man, who had assumed a boxing stance as the troll advanced. Poison Billy Stillwater, his oldest friend and adoptive sister, rushed over to Keyfer with Radish in tow. Billy’s fiery green eyes sparkled beneath her tricorn hat, and Keyf was relieved to see her. Keyfer handed his friend’s spectacles back. Radish slipped them on quickly, and they all watched as the old man traded punches with the troll. He walloped the big bugger in the jaw, and a tooth like a paving stone shot out of its mouth. The troll threw a left that the gray-haired man ducked only to get hit with a right just after. The three friends winced at the bone rattling impact.
“Damn it, man,” the old bloke spat. “I didn’t steal your sweet roll!” He charged the troll and landed a tremendous upper cut that knocked the big beast back. Then the determined older fellow hauled his foot back and aimed a kick right between the monster’s legs. The troll doubled over, cradling its sensitive stones. “I’m sorry I had to do that, son, but you wouldn’t listen to reason.”
“Trolls are real?” Radish whispered the question as the triumphant stranger retrieved his hat a second time.
“Apparently,” Billy answered.
“And that old fellow just fought one with his bare hands,” Keyfer added with awe and respect.
“Halt.” A tinny voice drifted down the alley. The rusty suits of armor had reassembled, although one of them was missing a glove. “You are a criminal, sir.”
“This isn’t what it looks like.” The tough, old bastard held his hands up again. Keyf noticed his knuckles were torn.
“That troll accused you of theft and you assaulted it,” the armor stated.
“All right, then it’s exactly what it looks like.” The man scratched his stubbly chin slowly.
“The sentence is transfigurment. A candlestick, I should think.”
“Too lenient,” the second suit of armor stated.
“Obliteration?” the first asked. Its partner nodded noisily. “Obliteration, it is.”
“Let’s not get hasty there, mate.”
“Second,” the armor addressed his partner. “Fire!” But before either suit of armor could attack the perpetrator, they were lifted into the air and smashed together.
“Sorry, Lumpy. I can’t let you do that.” The man held his hands out toward the mixed up suits of armor. An arcane purple light emanated from his skin.
“He’s a wizard.” Keyfer stood. The old wizard walked over to the wall of the alley and placed his hand on the plaster. The once-white material bubbled and rippled. With his other hand, he guided the various bits of armor to the wall, where they sank into the plaster trapping the enchanted metal bits.
“You have committed a grievous crime, sir.” The helmet stated from its plaster prison. “The sentence is death! The sentence is death!”
“Damn. Looks like I’ve overstayed my welcome,” the scruffy wizard lamented. His attention was drawn by a moan from the troll. “Shite,” he barked and walked over to the beast, leveling a kick to its jaw, knocking it unconscious.
“Death!” the armor screeched. “The sentence is death!”
“Nothin’ for it.” The guilty wizard shrugged, turning on his heel and running for the street.
“Hold on!” Keyfer jumped over and grabbed the man’s sleeve. Keyf tipped a wink at his mates before he asked, “Need a ride?”
The tough, old wizard squinted one eye and studied first Keyfer, then Radish and Billy. “Pirate?”
Keyf smirked and shrugged. “Guilty,” he answered. “Sometimes.”
“You have a ship?”
“We do,” Billy answered. “I’m her captain.”
“We’re a tad far from water for pirates,” the old man replied.
“I guess it’s a good thing she’s an airship.” Billy crossed her arms and raised her chin.
The old man’s grey brows raised wrinkles on his forehead. “An airship?”
“This I have to see.” The odd wizard slapped Keyfer on the shoulder and offered his hand. “Curtis Greymarrow,” he said, introducing himself.
“Keyfer Lockswit,” Keyf said, taking the offered hand. Greymarrow raised a brow at the name. “Long story. I’ll tell you some time. This is Radish Timmons, and you’ve already met Poison Billy.”
“Pleased to meet you folks,” Greymarrow answered as they walked quickly away from the scene of the crime.
“Mr. Greymarrow?” Radish asked. “If you can use magic, why fight a troll bare knuckled?”
“Must keep my hand in, mustn’t I? Don’t want to lose my touch. I find magic to be used best as a last resort.” The wizard smiled. “Plus it’s dead fun, fist fightin’ trolls.”
Keyfer smiled as they reached the edge of Wishborne. He was really beginning to like the grizzled old wizard. “There she is,” Keyf said pointing at the ship, now visible over the trees. “The Wayward Grace.”
The Grace had been fully converted from a sea vessel to an airship since the crew had modified her with whatever they could get their hands on to escape the island that had once been their prison but was now their hideout. Her hull remained basically unchanged though she sported bat-like wings and enormous fans to move her through the air. Large cloth bladders clung to the hull with wooden shields wrapped around them. An enormous canvas rudder on the rear of the ship assisted with maneuverability and on the bow the original masthead beamed down like an angel.
The wizard stopped in his tracks, looking up with his mouth agape and his lilac colored eyes wide. “Bugger me sideways. You’ve really got an airship.”
“Did you think we were lying, Mr. Greymarrow?” Radish asked.
Greymarrow, Keyfer thought as he finally made the connection. “I’m glad I didn’t sign up to fight you, old man,” Keyf stated, patting the stunned wizard on the shoulder.
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The hammer shook in Jamie Duncan’s tiny hand. The job of putting it back on his father’s garage workbench was forestalled by confusion and fear. Eight years old, he did not have the frame of reference needed to process what he was seeing. The frayed and battered tennis shoes, the ones his brother Benjamin wore every single day, were suspended about a yard from Jamie’s frightened face. Surprised amusement had surrendered quickly to shocked disbelief as Jamie noticed the white socks still peeking out from below his brother’s jeans, just above those beloved red canvas shoes.
A strangled scream, drowned in his panic, erupted from him as nothing but a strained whimper. Reaching out, Jamie touched his big brother’s leg, alien in its stillness. The younger boy could not remember a time when Benjamin had ever been so still; it was almost worse than the silence. Staggering back several feet, Jamie continued to stare at the cherry colored sneakers, terrified to look any higher and see his brother’s face.
“Benji?” Jamie whispered, his voice small and scared, it was almost as if he were trying to wake his big brother, like he did after he’d had a bad dream. In his heart, the little boy wished as hard as he could. In fact, some may have even called it prayer. He wished that Benjamin would wake up and tell him that there was nothing to be afraid of.
“Benji, I’m scared.” He thought about how his brother would sigh and pretend to be mad when Jamie woke him in the middle of the night. In the end, the older boy would always pull his blankets back, inviting his little brother in so he could protect Jamie from the monsters.
Jamie looked up to see his brother’s staring, unseeing eyes and he knew that the monsters had finally gotten Benji.
Standing as high as his little feet would allow, Jamie stretched up and pulled at his big brother’s T-shirt. He wanted to make Benji mad, to make him yell – because even yelling would be better than the silent blank stare. A crumpled piece of notebook paper fell from his brother’s slackened grip and dropped to the grungy floor. Not taking his eyes from those red sneakers, Jamie bent and scooped up the note.
Slowly, he sounded out each word like Mrs. Martin had taught him. Reading the words around the damp smudges, he thought maybe his brother had been writing in the rain.
Their hatred burns like fire, scorching, consuming
The very air blisters my lungs
I can’t breathe
Acrid smoke blocks out the sun
I can’t see
Roaring Flames engulf my soul
Everything lies in ruins
There is nothing left
I’m just so tired. I can’t fight anymore.
They tell me I’m going to go to hell for being a fag and maybe I am, but it can’t be any worse than school.
I’m so sorry. Please tell Jamie that I’m sorry. I’m supposed to be there to protect him but how can I do that when I can’t even protect myself?
Clutching the note against his chest, Jamie sank to the floor and pulled his knees up trying to protect himself from the weight of his brother’s confession. He knew what it was like for kids at school to be mean. Joey Thompson had pushed him off the bars at recess a few days ago. In his child’s view, he couldn’t understand why Benji didn’t tell a teacher. They had to have teachers in the tenth grade, just like they did in third.
The reality of his brother’s death became more real for Jamie as he held the note in his hand. He wanted to run, he wanted to tell someone, but he just couldn’t leave his brother alone. In that note Benji sounded so scared. Benji would never have left Jamie if he were feeling scared.
Jamie continued to sit on the cold concrete floor below his brother’s body and waited for someone to come.
The Trevor Project helps to show our GLBT youth that It Gets Better and that they are loved
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I can’t help myself – I need to check in on my characters from time to time, in order to make sure that they’re still okay!
If you’re interested in seeing what the Lost Treasure gang are up to, you can read Lost and Found. It’s just shmoopy, nothing too serious – but it’s set after the end of the book, so don’t read it until you’re finished with Lost Treasure itself.
I hope you like it!
N.B.: This short story is a “lost” chapter of Infected: Prey, which takes place within that story’s time frame, after the episode with Matt Skouris and his stalker (called by him “Rambo”), within the story Prey. So there’s some warning – if you haven’t read it or read that far, there’s a very mild spoiler.
Gold For Bread
It was after Hipster Doofus’s latest visit to the coffee shop that Matt realized he didn’t want to be a barista anymore.
It wasn’t the Hipster’s fault. It was probably a revelation he’d had before and simply forgotten. He wanted to blame the history of drug abuse for his hummingbird attention, but the truth was he’d always had attention deficit disorder. He was diagnosed with it at six and started taking Ritalin, but as soon as his mom found out he was selling it on the playground to older kids instead of taking it, that was the end of that.
“With Gladness”, written specifically for Dreamspinner and Andy Eisenberg (my friend!), available here: http://marchwellbooks.wikispaces.com
(I hope I did this right!)
The sun was warm on Ted’s face even with the tinted windows and the air conditioning in the airport terminal. He’d begged and pleaded to be allowed to come through security to meet this particular plane. His friend’s injury had finally been what tipped the scales in his favor. Les couldn’t walk so he couldn’t carry his bag on crutches. The argument wouldn’t have worked on a larger airport but Lexington was small enough and Southern enough to bend the rules for a sob story about a man who just lost his leg and needed help adjusting to his new life.
It was all true. It just wasn’t the whole truth. The whole truth was that Ted couldn’t wait a moment longer to see his friend. They’d kept in touch the entire time Les was gone, but Ted had come to realize it was far more than friendship that bound them together. Thus the flowers in his hand, the stems crushed by his nervous grip. Les had said repeatedly that he wouldn’t have made it without Ted’s unwavering support so Ted hoped maybe Les felt the same way. It had taken his friend nearly dying, though, to give him the courage to do more than dream.
The plane taxied into place, the jet way moving into position. Ted told himself Les would be the last one out because he’d need a wheelchair, but that didn’t stop him from hovering at the entrance to the jet way, just in case.
The departing passengers streamed past Ted, smiling as they saw the flowers in his hand. He figured they were wondering who the lucky girl was. Ted only hoped Les would consider himself a lucky guy. Then Les was there in front of him, hobbling on crutches but under his own power. Ted held out the flowers, hope shining on his face.
“What are you doing here?” Les asked, laughing.
Ted took a deep breath and leaned forward, brushing his lips over Les’s. This was the moment of truth. Les would either kiss him back or deck him.
Les kissed him back.
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A tiny little short I wrote about Matt and Jared. This takes place not long after the end of A to Z, and over a year after the end of Promises. It’s short and, as Angelo will tell you, “so fuckin’ sweet it’ll make your teeth hurt.”
The whole thing started because I wasn’t paying attention.
It was a Sunday afternoon in March. I was sitting on the couch, reading. Jared was grading homework while he watched TV. That was when, seemingly out of the blue, he hit me with the question.
“Do you think you ever want to get married?”
In my defense, I was completely engrossed in my book. I was down to the last hundred pages—the murderer was about to be revealed, justice was about to be served, and the hero was about to get the girl. I definitely was not paying attention to the TV.
Did I ever want to get married?
I didn’t even pause to think about it. The word “marriage” still held strictly heterosexual connotations for me. I immediately pictured a tux. An enormous cake. Bridesmaids.
I said the first thing that came to me—the worst thing I could possibly have said. I opened my big mouth and said, “Of course not.”
The only response was a stunned silence, and when I looked over at him, the pain and disappointment in his blue eyes made me drop my book. “What?”
“Nothing.” He turned away from me, and I could see him trying to get his emotions back under control, trying not to show me how upset he was by my words. He gathered up the stack of papers he was grading and took them into the dining room.
I finally looked at the TV, and that was when I realized what an idiot I was. Another state had finally legalized gay marriage. Not our state, of course. But the announcement had obviously spurred the question, which had resulted in my unfortunate knee jerk response. It wasn’t as if the idea of marrying him had never occurred to me. It just hadn’t occurred to me at that one critical moment when it mattered most. And now the man I loved more than anything in the world was hurt and angry and hiding in the other room, trying to distance himself from me.
I could just let it go. I knew Jared. He would give me a wide berth for the rest of the evening, only speaking if I spoke to him first, and not making eye contact. When we went to bed, he would start out on his own side. At some point in the night, he would move closer. By morning he would be in my arms. And we would pretend like nothing had happened.
But that wasn’t what I wanted.
I followed him into the dining room. He hunched a little closer over the papers he was grading, not looking up at me. I pulled a chair over and sat down facing him, so that his chair was between my knees. I put my arms around him and buried my face in his mess of curls. I loved him so much. I loved the way his hair always smelled like the Colorado wind, and the stubborn way he would cock his head toward me when he was mad, so that I couldn’t quite get my lips onto his neck. He was doing it now.
“Jared, I didn’t mean it that way.”
“It’s okay,” he said, even though it obviously wasn’t. “If that’s how you feel—”
“—you don’t need to explain yourself.”
“I thought…” What was I supposed to say? “I thought you meant something else.”
If I had left him alone, he would have let it blow over. But now that I was pushing him, he would push back. He snorted and pulled away from me. “I can see how a simple yes or no question might confuse you, Matt.”
And even though I felt like an ass, I knew I had to tell him the truth. “I thought you meant to somebody else.”
He turned and looked at me with so much rage in his eyes that I backed up a little. “Somebody else? What the hell would make you think—”
“I thought you meant to a girl!”
He froze, and I could see him processing that. Jared had been aware of his homosexuality since high school. I had only accepted my own attraction to him a year and a half earlier. A year and a half wasn’t enough to completely erase thirty-three years of straight thinking. He knew that.
He sighed, and some of the anger left his face. He let me put my arms around him again. This time, when I pulled him close and pushed my face into his hair, he angled his head away from me so I could get to his neck.
“You caught me off guard, Jared. That’s all.” He didn’t answer, but he finally relaxed against me. “Please don’t be mad. I didn’t mean it the way it sounded. I promise.”
“It’s okay,” he said again, and this time I knew he meant it. “It’s not like your answer had to be yes. I just didn’t expect your ‘no’ to be quite so definitive.”
I pulled back so that I could look into his eyes. “Is that what you want, Jared? If so, just name a place. Pick a place where it’s legal and I’ll book us on a flight right now.”
He blinked at me in surprise. “Are you serious?”
“Absolutely. We’ll go next weekend. Or we can wait until summer and make a vacation out of it. We can go alone, or we can take the whole family. Whatever you want.”
He smiled at me then. Jared smiled at just about everything. It was one of the things that first attracted me to him. “It doesn’t matter, Matt. If we’re married or not, if the state recognizes it or not,” he shrugged, “it means nothing.” One of his hands went to the back of my neck, and he put his forehead against mine. “None of it changes the way I feel.”
I knew what he meant. And yet, I also knew I wanted to do something for him, to prove how much he meant to me.
“Come to bed with me?” I asked him, and he smiled again.
“I have to finish grading these. You go ahead. I’ll be right behind you.”
“That’s not what I want tonight,” I said jokingly, and he laughed.
I was sound asleep when he finally joined me. I woke up to him cuddling up to my back. I leaned back against him, and he wrapped his arms around me. “This reminds me of the first night I spent in this bed with you,” I said sleepily.
He was silent for a second or two, and then said lightly, “That was the second night. The first night you spent in my bed, I was doped to the gills on vicodin, and you were fully clothed.”
He was right. How had I forgotten that night? Jared had been in a bike wreck. Or, to be clear, he had been riding his bike home when he was hit by a car. I remembered how it felt, seeing him with road rash all over one side of his body, half of his face a mess of bruises, and a gash on his temple that could have been so much worse. He had been lucky. “You could have died,” I whispered, and his arms tightened around me.
Looking back, I could almost pinpoint that night as the turning point for me. That was the night I started to realize how much he meant to me. The doctor had told me to keep an eye on him overnight, and to call right away if he started experiencing dizziness or nausea. I had slept in his bed with him, and it had been all I could do not to wrap my arms around him and hold him close. It hadn’t been a sexual urge, by any means. I just wanted to know that he was there, and that he was really okay. I wanted to reassure myself that he was alive and safe. I wanted to feel him breathing. Instead I had wrapped my hand around his wrist, so that I could feel his pulse against my fingertips. I slept like that the whole night.
I was brought back to the present by Jared’s hand sliding down my stomach.
“Matt?” It was only my name, almost a whisper, but that one word spoke volumes to me. I knew what he was trying to say. I heard in his voice an echo of the same tenderness I was feeling for him at that moment. I turned toward him and pulled him into my arms, and he relaxed against me with a quiet sigh that was part contentment, part arousal.
Sex with women had always been about softness – soft skin and soft hair and soft curves. There was nothing soft about Jared. He was all elbows and collarbones and hipbones. His arms were hard and strong, and his legs even stronger. His hair was thick and coarse, and seemed to tangle around my fingers of its own accord. Even his skin wasn’t quite soft, except in that spot just below his ear. And if I seemed overly fascinated with that part of his body, it wasn’t because of that softness. It was because when I kissed him there, I could smell him, and I could hear the low, urgent sounds he made as our bodies moved together. Even now, after all this time, after so many nights spent together in this bed, I was still amazed at how that lack of softness turned me on so much.
I put one hand into his thick curls and angled his head so I could kiss the pale column of his throat. “Say it for me, Jared,” I whispered into his ear.
His arms went around me, and for once he didn’t tease me. He didn’t play the game. He said immediately, “I love you so much.”
“I love you too,” I whispered as I wrapped my hand around both of our shafts at once and slowly started to stroke us together. “You have no idea how much.”
There were no more words after that. Just warm lips and his quiet moans, his pale skin against mine, legs tangled together, and slow burning passion that rocked me to my core. There was no way in the world I was ever letting him go. I knew that. I had always known it. But I wanted him to know it too.
He didn’t say anything after that night, and it seemed like he had forgotten the entire incident. Maybe he had, but I hadn’t. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had failed him somehow, and I had no idea how to make it right.
The following weekend, Jared’s mom Susan asked me to take her and my mother to Boulder for the day. Brian, Lizzy, and Zach all had birthdays coming up, and they wanted to go shopping. We parted ways in the mall, and I resigned myself to several hours of boredom. I was looking for a book store when I saw it: the jewelry store. And inside, several different couples, shopping for rings.
The figurative light bulb in my head went on. I knew immediately that was what I was looking for—a symbol. Something that would show him how I felt. I felt a little stupid for not having thought of it sooner.
I hoped I could shop without being bothered, but as soon as I started looking at the rings, one of the sales ladies came up to me. She was about my age. Pretty, but wearing way too much perfume.
“Can I take anything out of the case for you?”
I pointed out a couple of the rings, and she took them out for me to look at. I didn’t want it to be fancy, and it definitely couldn’t be too delicate. Anything too soft wouldn’t survive all the mountain biking he did. “I need it to be tough,” I told her.
“In that case, I would suggest platinum or titanium. They’ll hold their shape better than plain silver.”
I was able to rule out platinum immediately based on price alone. I chose titanium bands that were wide and unadorned. “Can you engrave these?” I asked her.
She cocked her head at me, like she was confused, but said, “Of course.”
That same confused head-cock. “Are you looking for an engagement band in titanium also? Or do you want to consider white gold?” She pointed at the next case over, which was full of women’s wedding rings.
I felt myself blush, and my pulse sped up a little. I hated myself for still being embarrassed by it, but I wasn’t backing out now. “No,” I made myself say. “I need two, just like this.”
She wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer. It actually took her a few seconds to process that. Then I saw comprehension in her eyes and she smiled. It seemed genuine, too. “Of course.”
She pulled out a bunch of little plastic rings and had me try them on until she found my size, then asked, “And what about the other ring?”
I had no idea what to say. Jared’s hands were not as big as mine, but definitely larger than hers. She saw my dilemma and said quietly, “Look at the others in the store.”
I looked around at the other men. Specifically, I looked at their hands. It was one of the other employees whose hands were closest to Jared’s. I pointed to him, and she winked at me and whispered conspiratorially, “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it.”
I had to make an excuse to go back to Boulder a few days later to pick the rings up. She gave them to me in little grey boxes—the kind with the hinged lid that you always see in the movies, when the guy gets down on his knee and opens the box while popping the question to his lady. I didn’t know why, but the boxes bothered me. I took the rings out and put them in my pocket, then dropped the boxes in the trash on the way to my car.
When I got home, I had a whole new dilemma—where to hide them. Not that I expected Jared to be snooping around for anything, but I was irrationally worried that he would find them. I finally tucked them inside a roll of socks and stuffed them in the back of my drawer. Then I had to figure out when to give them to him. We were past Valentine’s Day. His birthday was still months away. We hadn’t ever celebrated any kind of anniversary. If we had one at all, it would have been in November. Unless…
I had to check the title on my Jeep. I had bought it from Lizzy the day after meeting Jared for the first time. We had immediately become friends. Of course, it had taken months for it to develop into anything more than that, and another six weeks for me to accept what those feelings meant. Nonetheless, the anniversary of the day we met seemed like as good a day as any.
Except that day turned out to be Zach’s birthday.
Whether they liked it or not, Zach and Angelo had officially been adopted as part of our family. Lizzy invited everybody to her house for dinner to celebrate. After nearly nine months in Coda, Angelo had finally learned to relax a little around Lizzy, Susan, and my mother. I even caught him smiling at my mom once. Everyone was having a great time.
Everyone except me.
I wasn’t faking it well, either. Jared was watching me out of the corner of his eye, and Angelo looked suspicious. I couldn’t stop being nervous. I had the rings in my pocket. I had no idea what I was waiting for—a perfect moment, or a sign from heaven.
I was in the kitchen trying to decide how to proceed when Angelo came in. He leaned against the counter next to me and elbowed me in the ribs. “What the hell’s your problem?” he asked in a tone that would have set anybody who didn’t know him on the defensive.
I did know him, better than Zach even, in some ways. Normally I wouldn’t have fallen for it. But tonight I did. “Nothing!” I snapped.
His eyes got a little bigger, but he just grinned at me. “Okay, man. Don’t freak out.”
Angelo was the person I cared about most in the world, second only to Jared. He knew that. He just stood there next to me, waiting me out. I finally reached into my pocket and pulled out the rings. I opened my hand so he could see them.
He looked at them for just a second, then grinned up at me. “Gee, Matt. Didn’t know you felt that way ‘bout me.”
I started to laugh, but right then Zach and Jared walked into the kitchen. I cut my laugh short and quickly stuck the rings back in my pocket. I could feel myself blushing. I knew I looked guilty, and Jared was looking at me suspiciously.
Angelo grabbed Zach’s arm and steered him back toward the door. “Wait,” Zach started to say, “I came to get—.”
“Later,” I heard Ang say to him as the door swung shut behind them, and Jared and I were left alone in the kitchen. He turned to face me, standing in front of me, only a foot away, but not touching me.
“What were you and Angelo talking about?”
“Nothing,” I said, trying to sound casual.
He looked at the floor for a minute while he decided what to say, but finally looked up at me again. “Tell me what’s wrong.”
He was smiling at me, but it was a strained smile. “You’ve been acting funny the last couple of weeks, and it’s worse tonight.” He stepped closer, but he still didn’t touch me. I looked into his eyes, and I hated what I saw there. Because I saw fear, and a hint of panic. His voice shook a little, but he said, “Are you unhappy?”
“No!” And this was exactly why I wanted to do this. I didn’t want him to worry that I would leave. I wanted him to know how much I loved him. “No,” I said again, and pulled him close to me. I grabbed a handful of his hair and pulled his head back so that he was looking up into my eyes. “I’ve never been happier.”
He relaxed a little, and his smile finally made it all the way to his blue eyes. “Then what is it?”
This was it. I wished it was a better moment. I wished I had thought it through more. I wished we weren’t in Lizzy’s kitchen, with a sink full of dirty dishes behind me. Still, I felt like it was now or never.
“Do you realize we met exactly two years ago today?” I asked him.
He looked at me in surprise. “I knew it was this month.” Of course he was smiling. “I can’t believe you remembered the day.”
“Impressive, isn’t it?”
“It is, actually.”
I leaned down and kissed neck, then confessed. “I cheated. It was on the title to the Jeep.”
He laughed. “I’m still impressed. I wouldn’t have thought of that.”
I reached into my pocket and took out the rings. I took his hand, and placed both rings in it, but closed his fingers over them before he could see what I had given him. I held his hand closed. He was looking at me in amusement, his head cocked a little to the side, smiling like always.
“I thought about what you said Jared, and you’re right. Whether we do it or not, it doesn’t change the way I feel. But,” I had to stop and take a deep breath, “I wanted you to have something. I wanted to prove it to you.”
He still looked a little amused, but also curious. I finally let go of his hand and let him open his fingers and look down at what I had given him. He stood there for the longest time, looking at those two rings lying one inside the other in the palm of his hand. He didn’t move. He didn’t speak.
“Yours is engraved,” I managed to say, although it was hard to make my voice work.
He took the smaller of the two rings and peered at the inside. It said, “Yours forever. I promise.” He took a deep breath, and I could tell he was shaking as much as I was. I couldn’t see his face, and he wasn’t saying anything in response. My heart was pounding, and I was starting to worry. “Jesus Jared,” I said, my voice trembling, “say something.”
Finally he looked up at me, and the smile on his face was beautiful. There were tears in his eyes. That was why it had taken him so long to look at me—he hadn’t wanted me to see that. “Thank you.”
I pulled him against me and buried my face in his thick curls. “If you ever want to make it official,” I told him quietly, “just say the word.”
He shook his head. “This is enough.”
“Are you sure?” I asked him.
Angel is the story of a committed Christian, Don, who falls for a tortured demon, Michael, he knew briefly as a child—and was parted from in horrifying circumstances.
I’ll let Michael introduce himself, and the story, to you. (This “extra” doesn’t appear in the ebook.)
I was ten years old when I found out I was a demon.
Of course, I’d known there was something different about me and my Mom for years, even then. The way we didn’t hang around in any one place for more than a year at most. The way I wasn’t allowed to be friends with anyone whose family were practicing Christians. Or Jews. Or Muslims or anything else for that matter, even up to the kid whose mom floated around in black lace dresses and called herself a Wiccan. I guess she just wasn’t doing it right.
Anyhow, when you’re a little kid you accept these things, but sooner or later you start to wonder why you have to follow all these rules that no one else does. Why you’re the only kid who’s never been to a wedding or a funeral, never gone to Mass or a bar mitzvah. It was around that time I started noticing that my Mom wasn’t like other moms. I didn’t know what the hell to call it in those days, I guess because the words “batshit insane” don’t figure in a lot of reading primers.
Anyhow, I’d kinda worked out that Mom was weird. It hadn’t occurred to me to think that maybe I was weird—that maybe Mom was weird because of me.
Until the day Donnie Gallagher took me to his church after school.
That was when I got these scars.
I hope you enjoyed that! You can find an excerpt from the story on the main Dreamspinner site by following the link.