Boo

Arms full of boxes, Martin emerged from the basement. Charlie took his eyes off the game long enough to ask, “What are you doing?”

“Could use some help here,” Martin said, kicking the basement door closed behind him.

“With what?” Charlie didn’t move, didn’t so much as take his feet off the coffee table. It was Sunday, the game was on.

“When’s halftime?” Martin dumped the boxes near the front door.

“Why?” There’d been a time when the break between quarters meant quick and dirty groping on the couch, but they’d been a lot younger back then.

“I need a hand with the coffin.”

“Not mine.”

Martin glanced at the TV, at the game clock. “Call me when it’s halftime.”

Charlie turned back to the game undisturbed by the noise Martin made getting the boxes out the front door. The clock ran down on the field, but he didn’t call Martin. He’d never had any intention of calling Martin. Charlie walked into the kitchen and cracked open a beer.

The front door opened. “Halftime,” Martin said, slipping his phone with its Google informant away, and heading for the basement.

“Ah, crap.” Charlie grumbled on his way down to the basement and on his way up. “Every year, every freaking year. Why can’t you just stick a skeleton on the door like normal people? Plonk a pumpkin on the front stoop? No, it’s got to be a grand production.”

Martin wasn’t bothered by the whining, it’s not like he hadn’t heard it all before. Plus, part of his job as Charlie’s partner was to give the man something to complain about. Worked out nicely. “Watch the walls,” he cautioned, as they maneuvered the coffin through the hallway and out the door. “Here,” he said, walking backwards, guiding Charlie into the temporary graveyard he’d set up. “Yeah, that’s good. Thanks, babe.”

“Yeah.” Charlie turned back to the house, left Martin to fiddle with spider webs and ghouls. He didn’t get it; they didn’t even have that many kids in the neighbourhood anymore.

Hours later, after the game, after dinner, after Charlie turned out the lights and made sure the front door was locked, he opened the bedroom door on a pitch-dark room. “Martin?” He hit the light switch, but nothing happened. “Shit. Martin? The power’s out. Where—?”

 A body at his back, an arm locked around his chest, a hand tugging at his belt buckle.

“Boo,” Martin’s voice ghosted at his ear.

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Stuck With You: a Covid Story

“Pancakes?” David said, sliding onto a stool at the kitchen counter.

“Observant.” Joel grabbed two mugs, set one by David’s plate, and slipped onto the other stool. His stool. It was undeniably his kitchen too, although technically, he was a guest. The condo was David’s.

Eyes on their tablets, they forked up the pancakes in silence. Neither one of them was much of a talker before the caffeine kicked in.

“You see this?” David asked, pushing his plate aside. “We’re starting Stage Two on Wednesday.”

“Yeah.”

“We can get a hair cut.” David smiled, waiting for the inevitable what-hair crack from Joel, but he got nothing, not even a smirk.

His mind obviously on something more serious than David’s ever-widening bald spot, Joel gathered up his plate and mug, and slotted them into the dishwasher. He snapped the door on the machine shut and leaned against the counter. “I can go home.”

No! This is your home. Here, with me. “You think that’s a good idea? A five-hour flight, recycled air, germs floating about in a confined space?”

“Air Canada is enforcing a mask policy.”

“Yeah, that will be comfortable.”

“No, but…” Joel shrugged, shoved his hands in his pockets, his eyes finding David’s across the space between them. “This was never supposed to be permanent.”

True. When the country had shut down in March it had been chaos, flights cancelled, stores and businesses closed, the government pleading with people to stay off the streets, to stay home. Joel, a sales manager from their Vancouver branch, had been stranded in Toronto, and David had offered him a place to stay. Sure, they knew each other. They’d hooked up a few times, but they weren’t a thing. Not then.

“It could be. Permanent, I mean,” David said, walking around the counter. He gathered a handful of Joel’s terry robe and pulled him close. “It could be very permanent.”

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Family Pride

Too freaking hot. Too many people. Glen much preferred to watch Pride from the comfort of his living room. He was too old for—Hello, someone’s been working out. Glen eyed the young man shouting into a microphone atop the float rolling down Yonge Street. Nice. When was the last time your abs looked like that, huh? Never.

He wouldn’t be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with half of Toronto if it wasn’t for his nephew. No, not fair, this wasn’t Tony’s idea. This was his sister’s fault. Blasted Type A personality. When Tony came out a few months back, Karen couldn’t leave it at we-love-you, use-a-condom. Nope, she had to join PFLAG, and volunteer with EGALE, and drag the whole family down to Pride. Overkill.

Not that he didn’t support his nephew, he did, but Tony didn’t need his family here. Somewhere between the parking lot and Yonge Street, he’d disappeared into a gang of his friends and more power to him. Glen wouldn’t mind ducking into the nearest pub for something cold himself. Beer on his mind, he tried to wedge himself out of the crowd and stepped back—onto someone else. “Sorry.”

“No problem.” The guy moved back, clearing a few inches for Glen. “Bit tight in here.”

“Yeah.” Glen shifted to the side, but the crowd surged forward and he found himself chest to chest with the stranger he’d stepped on. Green eyes bracketed by age lines, sunglasses set atop waves of grey hair. Lucky bastard. Glen was not okay with his own shrinking hairline.

“Had enough?” The grey head nodded at the crowd.

“Too old for this.” Glenn winnowed his way through the glut of bodies, aware of the stranger at his back.

“Me too,” Grey Mop said, as they reached the relative quiet of a store front. “Only came to support my son.”

“Nephew. Married?”

“Divorced.”

“Beer?”

“Hell, yes.”

Too old for Pride? Maybe not.

The Boys

Sebastian loosened his tie.

“Long day?” Claire, his housekeeper/cook/lifesaver asked.

“Board meeting,” Sebastian said, liberating a beer from the fridge.

“Ah.”

“Boys home?”

“Upstairs.” Claire shut the oven, set the timer. “You might want to check on Ethan.”

“He okay?”

Claire shrugged. “You know Ethan.”

Sebastian nodded. “Yeah.” On a good day, Ethan wasn’t a talker. On a bad day, Sebastian had to beat the words out of him.

“Okay, the chicken’s got another fifteen minutes,” Claire said, washing her hands and slipping her wedding rings back on. “Everything else is in the warming drawer. See you tomorrow.”

“Thanks, Claire.”

His boys meant everything to Sebastian. They were the family he’d never thought he’d have. Halfway up the stairs, he knew Claire had been right. Ethan was worried about something, Sebastian could hear it in the tones he was pounding out of the piano.

The family room sprawled across the top of the house, Ethan’s piano sitting at one end, a seemingly never-ending sectional facing a large flat screen at the other, and various exercise stations plunked in the middle. The flat screen was dark, and it would stay that way until Sebastian gave permission for it to be on. It was a house rule, meant to remind and reinforce their central family dynamic—Sebastian was in charge.

Mark, racing against himself on a stationary bike, didn’t see Sebastian standing in the doorway, but Ru, sitting cross-legged on the sectional with his ever present laptop, did. A smile lighting his face, he closed his laptop and crossed the room to Sebastian. At thirty-nine, Ru was on track for tenure next year, and Sebastian couldn’t be happier for him.

Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony ended with a crash of fingerwork, and Ethan seeing Sebastian, smiled and abandoned his bench. At twenty-eight, Ethan was the youngest of his three boys, and played with the city’s symphony orchestra.

Ethan stepped in front of Mark’s bike, pointed at the doorway. Mark turned, grinned, and shut the bike down. The newest addition to their family, Mark had been Ru’s personal trainer. He still was.

“Boys,” Sebastian said, happy to be home.

With the ease of practice, all three men went to their knees.

“Sir.”

Michael

“No?” One hand sliding up Michael’s chest, Jared laughed. “Cute,” he said, thinking Michael was joking.

Michael shot a pointed look at the hand on his chest and tried to walk away, but Jared grabbed his shoulder and pushed him back against the wall, smiling because Michael was here for him. Obviously.

Michael didn’t struggle, but he didn’t have to, the look on his face enough to burst the alcoholic bubble Jared had been floating in. Shit. What was he doing? “Sorry.” He snatched his hand off Michael and buried it in his pocket, hiding the evidence. “Wasn’t thinking.”

“Yeah, you were.” Michael walked away from him, lost himself in the bodies clogging the main floor of the frat house.

Okay, he’d screwed up. Michael wasn’t into drunken asswipes pawing at him. Noted. Jared pushed his way through the crowd and out the front door, to see Michael heading back towards campus. He launched himself down the steps and onto the sidewalk, chasing after Michael.

Jared slowed to a walk at Michael’s side, and Michael ignored him. Okay, the guy was pissed. Jared could work with pissed. “You want me.”

Michael shrugged. “Not tonight, I don’t.”

A grin sliding across his face, Jared strolled at Michael’s side. “Tomorrow night?”

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Just Looking

The music was loud, the strategically erratic lighting was a prelude to a migraine, and the men were all too young for him. Didn’t matter, he wasn’t hoping to talk any of them off the dance floor and into his car. This club, all the lithe swaying bodies, were his gift to himself.

Happy Birthday!

His eyes on the dance floor, David toasted himself and remembered when he had been one with the press of flesh in the middle of the club, when the music had beat through him…when he’d found himself, who he was and who he wanted, in the arms of strangers.

He didn’t regret those years, but he didn’t wish them back again either. He didn’t have the energy anymore, or the interest. He’d long ago learned that new didn’t mean better.

He wasn’t looking to hook up, he was just looking. Enjoying the view. Happy that he could enjoy the view. Happy that he was here at all, when for a while there he’d thought he might not be.

David nursed his drink, watched bodies merge and separate, heads thrown back and arms punching up into the storm of flashing lights above. He inhaled the life in the room, the laughter on the air, and smiled at the thought of next year, and the year after that.

He set his empty glass down and stood, dropped cash on the table.

“You leaving?” Blue eyes grinned up at David from under a mop of dark hair that was shaved on one side.

“Uh, yeah, I was just…”

“Looking?” The kid stepped into David’s space, brushed against him at thigh and hip. “Yeah, me too.”

A Lifetime

Is it the same?

After all this time, are we the same?

I don’t know. How would I know? How can I compare who we are now with who we were then…?

The years rolled on, shit happened. Evasions. Lies. Large and small hurts delivered in anger and in silence.

Shared memories and secret smiles. Mornings rushing around or sleeping in. Frenzied days and wild nights. Laughter … I don’t have to try to remember the laughter because we laugh still you and I.

I wasn’t looking to get married all those years ago, not that we could back then. I was looking to get laid and so were you…

And here we are, forty years on. Thinning hair, and rounding shoulders, and still looking to each other—to get laid.

The Interview

He should have lied.

The minute Jared got a look at the man on the other side of the desk, he should have made up some excuse and got the hell out of there, but…

He had student loans to pay, and he was fed up with the short-term contract jobs, and he really needed to move out of his parents’ place —

“U of T,” Nicholas Allan Noyes, President and CEO said, reading from the resume in front of him. “Master of Arts in Ancient History.”

“Yes.”

Jared didn’t add a sir to the yes because this wasn’t the military, he wasn’t a freaking boy scout, and — bullshit. He didn’t say sir because, oh God, he so wanted to.

“Latin?” Noyes asked. “Bet that comes in handy.”

“Not so far.”

That got him a smile. Fortunately, it was there and gone in a nanosecond because Jared couldn’t think when Noyes smiled at him. He was having enough trouble concentrating even without the smile. Concentrating on anything, but the fact that there was something about this guy that just flat-out did it for him. Something? Hah! Make that everything. The air of command, the stone jaw… God, even his hands—

“I see you’ve moved around a bit since graduation,” Noyes said, tapping the resume.

“Yes, contract work mostly. I’d like to find a more permanent home.”

With you, Jared thought, but he didn’t say that. He wasn’t psychotic.

Noyes sat back in his high-tech, black leather throne, Siberian blue eyes regarding Jared across the expanse of the polished slab of wood between them. “And what makes you think you’d be an asset to MicroSource?”

Jared trotted out his customary spiel, trying to sound intelligent when all he really wanted to know was what Noyes looked like under that bespoke suit and if he had a chance in hell of finding out …

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Proposal

“I’ve been thinking,” Martin said, spreading low-fat margarine over his toasted bagel. “We should get married.”

Charlie lowered his newspaper, looked at Martin over the top of his reading glasses. “What?”

“You heard me.”

“No.” Charlie went back to reading his paper.

“No, you didn’t hear me or no, you don’t want to get married?” Martin asked, grimacing as he bit into his bagel. It wasn’t the same without cream cheese and jam.

Charlie’s head popped over the paper again. “What’s the matter with you?”

“Nothing, I want to get married.” Martin said, setting his bagel down and picking up his coffee.

Charlie flapped the newspaper pages, but he didn’t look up. “No, you don’t.”

Martin snorted. “You mean you don’t.”

“Don’t tell me what I mean, you know I hate that.”

“Why? You tell me what I think.” Martin popped the last piece of bagel into his mouth and dusted toast crumbs off his fingers.

Charlie folded his newspaper, pushed away from the table. Thirty years with Martin had taught him when to retreat. “I’m off to the gym.”

“I don’t know why you bother going. It’s not like you actually work out,” Martin said, getting up to slot his breakfast plate into the dishwasher.

“Should have thought that was obvious,” Charlie said, rounding the kitchen table, and pinning Martin to the counter. “I go to get away from you.”

Laughter spilling into Martin’s face, he slipped Charlie’s reading glasses off, and set them on the counter. “Get out of here, moron.”

At the kitchen door, Charlie turned back, raised an eyebrow at Martin. “You bought rings, didn’t you?”

“Thought you were leaving?” Martin asked, pouring himself a second cup of coffee.

“Ah, shit.” 

Martin sipped his coffee, heard the hangers clang in the hall closet as Charlie got his jacket. 

“No reception,” Charlie called down the hallway to the kitchen, closing the front door behind him.

Ever the romantic, his Charlie.

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