Happy Birthday, B

One of the very lovely people I’ve gotten to know in the last few years is B.  I’ll call her B since she isn’t overly fond of her first name, and the nickname she goes by online tends to be a little confusing.  Her birthday is a few days from now, on Halloween, but since she’s going to be out of town on Thursday, I thought I’d post a little early.  She’s a brilliant writer in her own right, and one of her stories will be published in the same anthology as mine.   She is also wicked with her red pen and a very good friend.   I hope you enjoy the story I wrote for you.  Happy Birthday, B!

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Better Late Than Never

With the kitchen window cracked open, Marc could smell the cool damp air.  It smelled like wet leaves, and as he glanced up, he saw that it was raining harder.  It had been misty all morning, but the rain was coming down steadily now; more than a drizzle but less than a full-out downpour.  Marc sighed and let out the breath he’d been holding, pushing his empty coffee cup away.  Fall made him melancholy.  It wasn’t just the shortening days or the gloomy weather.   It was the fact that it was his favorite season.

Marc’s heart clenched at the thought of John.

Cooler nights meant piling on more blankets, trying to replace the missing warmth in his bed.  It had been … six months, Marc thought hollowly.  Six months since he’d felt John’s arms around him, fallen asleep with John’s taste on his lips.  Half a year since half of his life was ripped away.

His friends were growing impatient with him.  They wanted him to be over it, for him to just move on.  But how could he move on?  How could he forget about the man he loved?  He let his chair rock back, balancing on the back two legs, and his lips curved up at the corners in a melancholy smile.  John had always yelled at him for that.  Of course, their little domestic squabbles had usually led to the two of them ending up in bed together.  Sometimes, he’d done it just to provoke John so he’d get drilled through the mattress.  He couldn’t imagine that with anyone else.

Sure, there had been a few interested men in the past six months, but he’d turned them down.  Even the blond with the ridiculously tight ass who looked just like the guy he’d lusted over in high school.  He felt his cock twitch in his shorts at the memory, and he sighed and let the chair fall forward again, the legs making a muted thud as they hit the floor.  He was being ridiculous and he needed to get out of this funk.  He needed to stop thinking about John; thinking about him wasn’t going to change anything.  Their life together was over and maybe his friends were right.  Even if he didn’t move on with another man, it was time for him to start living again.  Even if the idea of dating seemed unfathomable right now, it didn’t mean he had to be a hermit.

His head still felt muddled as he put away his breakfast dishes, and he decided to take a run.   Outside, dressed in lightweight running gear, the cold, damp late-October air was like a slap in the face.  It woke him from his lethargy, clearing the mingled depression and arousal from his mind.  By the time he’d finished the first mile, he was in the zone, his rhythm and stride easy and relaxed.  He focused on the familiar sights of his neighborhood, the carved pumpkins lining the front stoops, the splashes of color bright against the dreary greyness of the day.

The suburban sprawl disappeared as he headed into a wooded area.  Concrete sidewalks became a dirt path littered with brightly colored leaves.  He breathed deep, letting the earthy scent calm him.  This had always been his favorite running route.  He liked the cleaner, fresher air and the stillness of the woods.

John hated it, he preferred running on a treadmill.  Liked the absolute control it gave him.  But John had always liked being in control.  Marc had grown used to it in the twenty-odd years he’d known the other man.

Christ, hard to believe it had been so long. It made Marc feel old.

They’d met in college, working at a pizza joint and bonding over calculus homework and Nirvana CDs.  Life as a gay man in the early 90s wasn’t necessarily an easy one with the threat of AIDS looming over them and more than half the gay men he knew still in the closet.  Neither he nor John had been closeted, although they hadn’t been particularly out either.  It had taken them six months of hanging out at bars and studying together to finally broach the subject.  After that, they’d pretty much fallen into bed together.  They’d dated other people, drifting back to each other when they were both single.  They’d lost contact for a few years in their late twenties, caught up with work and their partners at the time.

After Marc’s father had died, John had been there for Marc.  And when Marc moved into the childhood home his father had left him, and John had been looking for a place to live, they moved in together.  Without real thought, they’d established a life together.  If it hadn’t been the life Marc had been looking for, it had been a good one, and John being gone left him feeling hollow and adrift.

Wet leaves brushed against his bare arms as he navigated around a fallen branch and tried to ignore the ache in his chest.  He’d never thought of John as his soul mate, or his other half, but with him gone, it felt like a huge chunk of himself was missing.  Some fundamental part of who he was had disappeared and that was what he was struggling with.

Pondering the ways he could start to rebuild his life, the miles disappeared and the looped trail returned him back out into his neighborhood.  Lost in his thoughts, he didn’t see the runner headed into the woods until it was too late and pitched forward, slamming into the other man even as he tried to stop.  Off-balance, it was only the man’s strong arm that kept him from falling into the mud.  He felt the rumble of laughter against his chest as the other man laughed.

“Hmm, well I’d always hoped to sweep you off your feet and get you to fall for me, but this wasn’t really what I had in mind.”

Marc managed to right himself finally, but the arm didn’t release him.  He looked up into the smiling face of his neighbor who lived three doors down.  The one with the great ass who was way too young.   “Jason,” he gasped.

He felt Jason’s hand slide across his lower back and was surprised by the sudden rush it sent through him.  Had it been over ten years since he’d been with anyone but John?  The time had flown.

“How was your run?”

Marc shrugged, suddenly aware of the ache in his knees and the tightness in his calves.  “All right.  I think I pushed myself a little harder than I should have though.  I’m going to feel it tomorrow.”  He laughed ruefully to himself; Jason probably didn’t have that problem.  He was what, twenty-seven, twenty-eight maybe?  Too young to know what it felt like to be a runner over forty.

Jason’s blue eyes sparkled and his lips twisted into a smile.  Marc had never noticed before how full they were. “I’d really love to help you out with that.  I give a killer massage.”

Marc smiled despite himself, flattered by the younger man’s attention.  “Thanks for the offer.”

Jason shifted forward, closing the already narrow distance between their bodies until he was so close to Marc they could have kissed without any effort at all.  “But it’s still a no, isn’t it?”

“I …” He sighed.  “Yeah.  It’s a no.”

“Look, I understand you miss your partner, but you can’t close yourself off to everything forever, Marc,” Jason said gently.  “Do you want something casual at first?  I can do that.  Or if you want me to wine you and dine you, I will.  I just want a chance.  I like you, Marc, and I really think there’s something between us.”

Marc closed his eyes for a moment.  Jason’s tone was sincere, and his offer to go with whatever Marc felt comfortable with was generous, but as much as he’d tried to convince himself that he needed to move on from his life with John, he just wasn’t ready to take that step.  He shook his head and opened his eyes in time to see the other man’s disappointed expression.

Jason stepped back, crossing his arms over his chest.  “Is it the age thing, Marc?”

“That’s some of it, yeah,” Marc admitted, “but more than that, I’m just not in the right place mentally yet.”

“Does that mean you could change your mind someday?” Jason asked, flashing Marc a wide, hopeful smile.

“Let’s put it this way, when I’m ready to move on, you’ll be the first to know,” he promised, surprised to realize he was flirting a little.  And enjoying it.

“That’s fair,” Jason agreed with a crooked grin.  “Now, how about a kiss so you’ll have something to remind you of what you could have?”

He covered Marc’s mouth with his own before Marc could even think to protest.  Jason’s lips were warm, and the kiss was one of the best damn kisses he’d ever had.  It was brief but intense.  When Jason drew back with a self-satisfied little hum, Marc almost regretted not grabbing him and kissing him again, but he knew he wasn’t ready to move on.

Still, the kiss had been a great boost to the ego and Marc had needed that.  He let his hand linger against Jason’s firm chest for a moment and he smiled up at the other man.  “Thanks for that.”

“Just knock on my door any time you want a repeat,” Jason said, his voice dropping to a low, husky purr.  “Or anything more.”

“I will, Jason,” he promised, and he meant it.

He said his goodbyes to his neighbor and jogged home, only turning back once to stare at Jason’s ass.  He sighed and shook his head at himself before resolutely looking away.

The moment he got home he took a leisurely hot shower.  Long after he’d soaped his body and washed his hair, he was still thinking about Jason’s kiss and about all the man had offered him.  Half-hard, he stroked his dick, throwing his head back against the shower wall when a surge of pleasure raced through him.  Desire made his stomach clench but the ring of the doorbell was like a bucket of cold water, making him pause mid-stroke.  He tried to ignore it, closing his eyes and chasing that desperate need to come, but the person outside the door was insistent.  With a grunt of frustration he turned off the shower, yanked a towel from the rack, and wrapped it around his waist as he stalked toward the front door.

Not really wanting to flash the mailman, he peered through the peephole to see who was still impatiently ringing it.  His irritation melted away as he caught a glimpse of the man on the other side of the door as he turned his head to the side.  He opened the door with a laugh.  “Jason, I told you I’d let you know if I changed my mind about the date.  You’re certainly persistent, I’ll give you that …” his voice trailed off as the man on his front step turned to face him.

The blood drained from his face, his heart beating a sudden quick rhythm in his chest.  “J-John?”

His former lover’s eyes met his, and his tone was acidic.  “Who the hell is Jason?”

“What—” he swallowed hard— “what are you doing here, John?”

John didn’t answer, just stared at him, his eyes traversing Marc’s bare chest.  Marc shivered, but whether it was from the cool outside air blowing across his damp skin or the way John was looking at him, he wasn’t sure.

John stepped forward and Marc automatically took a step back, his heart racing and his breathing shallow and quick.  John’s gaze was so intense, so heated and hungry.  When John had walked out of his life, he’d never expected to see him again.  He struggled to grasp the idea that John was here, inside his house.  Inside the house they’d lived in together for the better part of ten years.

Marc let out a shaky breath, trying to put together the words he wanted to say, the questions he had for John.

He never had the chance to speak them.  With a few short strides John was in front of him, pinning Marc to the wall behind him.  Marc’s mouth opened to protest but John’s lips descended, and he forgot everything but the familiar taste of the man he still loved.  The man who had left him.

Anger flared in him but it mingled with the desire.  John’s hands were cold, but they still burned against his skin, made need crackle through him.  He panted into the kiss, his head swimming as his hands involuntarily reached for John.  His hand slid under John’s jacket, gripping his shirt.  John’s kisses were hard and needy.  He’d always been an aggressive lover, but Marc could feel his desperation in every touch.  John’s lips moved across Marc’s jaw and to his neck.  He bit down and the stinging pleasure made Marc moan.

Without another word, John pulled Marc away from the wall, walking him backward toward the bedroom, one hand in Marc’s hair and the other arm tight around his waist.  A part of Marc knew he should stop John, tell him they needed to talk, but all he could do was feel.

In the bedroom, John spun him around and bent him over the bed, his hands making deft work of Marc’s towel.  Marc shivered as John’s hands ran possessively over him before he stepped back to rummage in the side table for lube.  Marc hung his head, his hands curling into fists on the bed as John moved slick fingers between his cheeks, first one finger then two pushing into him.  He was shivering, shaking from the desperate need he had.  It had been six long months since John had been inside him and he held his breath as John sheathed his cock with a condom and positioned himself at Marc’s entrance.

He threw his head back and let out a deep, throaty moan at the feel of John filling him.  “Missed this,” he panted as John began a hard, almost punishing rhythm.

John’s arm slid under his, pulling him nearly upright.  John panted in his ear, his breath harsh and hot against Marc’s cheek.  Marc let John set the pace, his body tensing against his lover’s.

Pleasure gathered in his lower belly, his groin tightening as John wrapped a hand around his cock, jacking him hard.  Marc threw his head back against John’s shoulder, his body shaking and shuddering as he came.  He groaned, feeling like he would turn inside out from the toe-curling pleasure; John swiftly following behind him.

Marc’s knees gave out and John let him collapse onto the bed.  He rolled onto his back, staring up at the man in front of him.  Panting and shaking, John dropped to the bed beside him, burying his head in the crook of Marc’s neck.  The familiar whoosh of his breath and slide of his sweat-dampened skin made Marc’s head spin.  They were both silent for a long time.  Eventually, John sat up and turned away, swinging his legs over the edge of the bed.  Marc heard the wet splat of the condom landing in the trash and he shuddered.   John rested his balled-up fists on the mattress beside his hips, bowing his head.  It made his back curve, and Marc reached out tentatively, wanting to touch the smooth expanse of golden skin.  He hesitated though, fingers just millimeters from John’s body, so close he could feel the heat.  “Did we need the condom?” he asked roughly.  It wasn’t what he’d intended to say, but the words slipped out before he could stop them.

John stiffened.  “I don’t know, did we?”

“Not on my account,” Marc snapped.

“Because you’ve been careful?” John asked, his voice sounding thin and strained.

“Because I haven’t been with anyone else.”  The wounded tone in Marc’s voice surprised them both.

“Who the fuck is Jason?” He turned to stare at Marc, his blue eyes meeting Marc’s brown.

“Jason is the guy three houses over.  The one who asked me out today,” he snapped.  “But I turned him down, and no, I haven’t slept with him.”

John let out a long huff of frustration.  “I’m sorry, okay?”

Marc swallowed hard and fell back onto the bed, his arm coming up to rest over his eyes.  At the moment, he couldn’t even look at John.  “Sorry for what? For leaving without giving me a chance to follow you? For telling me I should fuck someone else because we were over?  Or for the fact that you’ve been with others?”

The mattress shifted under John’s weight, but Marc didn’t open his eyes, even when John finally replied.  “I am sorry for leaving.  At the time … I thought it was best.  We’ve never been …”

Marc’s jaw clenched.  John was right.  They had never been anything, really.  Friends, companions, roommates, lovers … but never official.  Never nailing down what they were to each other.  They’d never used the words boyfriends or partners.  Their prior exclusivity had been about their health, not about emotional commitment.  It wasn’t John’s fault that Marc wanted more.  That he’d always wanted more and had never had the guts to tell him.

Marc sighed and lowered his arm to the bed; when his eyes opened, they met John’s.  The blue eyes were worried, almost tender.  “I’m sorry, too,” Marc admitted.  “I was being unfair to you.”  He sighed heavily and his voice cracked when he spoke.  “I just can’t believe you went off to California for your job without ever asking me if I might want to follow you.”

“I … you have a home here, a career,” John protested, his forehead wrinkling in a frown.  “I didn’t think you would want to uproot your whole life.”

“You should have at least given me the chance,” Marc shouted, sitting upright.  “You told me you were being relocated and that you were leaving.  You told me that we should both move on.”

John sighed, his eyes dropping to the bed. “I didn’t know you cared.”

“Didn’t know I cared? I loved you.”

John’s breath caught and the hurt in his eyes was palpable when he met Marc’s gaze again.  “Loved?  You don’t anymore?”

“Fuck, of course I still love you, John,” he said, reaching out to touch the other man’s cheek.

“Why didn’t you tell me before?” John asked, uncharacteristic vulnerability on his face.

“I … I didn’t know how you’d feel.  Didn’t know if you even wanted to hear it.  You’ve always been so strong, so solitary.  I thought if I told you that, you’d leave, that things between us would be over,” Marc replied quietly.

“I never meant for you to think that, I swear.”  John’s voice was rough and husky.  “I thought you knew how I felt.”

“How do you feel?” Marc asked, sitting up and wrapping one arm around his sheet-covered knee.

“Lost without you.  Like something’s … missing.” He sighed heavily.  “Lonely.  I thought my job was what mattered.  I thought it was what made me happy, but I was wrong, Marc.  I need you.”

The anger and hurt Marc had been struggling with for the past six months dissipated, wiped away by the words he’d been waiting so many years to hear.  He didn’t know when it was that he and John had gone from being friends and lovers to something more, or when he’d realized he needed to hear John say how much he needed him.

“I shouldn’t have left,” John continued.  “I love you, too, Marc.  I … I quit my job to come back here.”

“You what?” Marc breathed, shocked by both the declaration of the other man’s feelings and the gesture he’d made.

“I sure hope you want me back—” John laughed nervously “—because I’m homeless and jobless at the moment.”

Marc chuckled too, but he felt his chest tighten at what John had done in order to come back here to be with him.  “I think I might know of a place you could stay.”

John’s gaze was hopeful.  “You mean that?”

“Of course I do.”

John shifted onto his side and Marc lay down beside him, twining their legs together.  They kissed lazily for a long time, reacquainting themselves with each other.  When Marc pulled back, it was only far enough to look at the other man.

“I swear you’ve gone greyer since I left,” John said huskily, running his fingers through Marc’s salt and pepper hair.

“Fuck you,” Marc said with a snort.  “You’ve got more wrinkles.”

John shrugged.  “The California sun isn’t kind to a blue-eyed blond.  I’m better off here in Massachusetts.”

“You’re here to stay?” Marc asked more seriously.

“Yeah, I am,” John said huskily, his hand wrapping around the back of Marc’s neck.  “Or if I go anywhere, it’ll be with you.”

With those words, the last of the lingering hurt and anger was gone and Marc relaxed, leaning in for another slow, passionate kiss.

“I suppose it’s time I took you on a date, isn’t it?” John asked with a rueful smile when the kiss finally ended.  “Never have before, but it seems like it’s about time if we’re … dating.”

Marc tried to laugh but his throat felt tight with emotion.  “Only took us twenty years.”

“Best damn twenty years of my life,” John said more seriously.  “I’m only sorry it took me so long to figure this all out.  What the hell was wrong with me?”

“We were both a bit blind,” Marc admitted.  “But better late than never.”

Marc smiled to himself, suddenly remembering the thought he’d had when he’d caught a glimpse of John through the peephole.  It hadn’t been his high school crush Jason had reminded him of, it had been John.  He was such an idiot for never seeing that, never realizing that it had been John he’d wanted all along.

“Jason is going to be so disappointed,” Marc said with a wry smile.

John’s eyes narrowed.  “Maybe I’ll have to put a ring on your finger to show him you’re taken.”

Marc felt his heart stutter in his chest at the unexpected words.  “Are you serious … but we just—”

John stopped his words with a finger against his lips.  “Maybe not yet.  But someday.”

“You really go from nothing to everything, don’t you?”

“I suppose.  Might take me another twenty years though.”

“I can wait.”

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A Racing Heart

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On Sunday night as I dragged my tired butt to bed after many, many hours of cleaning and home renovations, I grabbed my tablet. I set my alarm, crawled into bed, and planned to read for a few minutes. As I went to open my Kindle app I saw a notification that I had an unread email from the editor I had submitted my short story to. With a racing heart I read it, and then re-read it. Once I realized what it said I handed my tablet over for my husband to read. I lay there for a moment, my heart beating frantically as my toes went numb. Don’t ask–the numb toe thing is weird, but I’ve had it happen before.

My husband asked if I was excited and I said, “I don’t know.” I could hardly wrap my brain around what was happening yet. For several years I’ve talked about the idea of wanting to try to publish something, and he’s encouraged me the whole time. I just wasn’t ready. He knew I had to reach that point on my own, and when I finally said the big, scary words, “I want to be a writer,” he was there to tell me that he believed in me. That I could do it.

Almost immediately after my husband finished congratulating me, I messaged a couple of very close friends, people who have held my hand through this process. The ones who read through the story many, many times and helped me tweak it. The ones who never had a doubt that this would happen for me. It turns out, they were right.

As we talked, it slowly began to register that this was really happening. It was completely surreal to realize that a publishing company wanted my story. As confident as I am in my writing, and as hopeful as I was when I submitted it, I never expected it to get picked. There are so many talented writers out there that the odds seemed incredibly small. I assumed I’d have to send in story after story before something got accepted. It wasn’t being pessimistic, but practical. I’d set a goal for myself that I wanted to have something published by the time I was 35. I’ll just be a few months over 32 when this short story comes out.

I hardly slept Sunday night and I’m not sure it’s completely sunk in yet. I spent Monday practically shaking with excitement, my mind whirling. Frankly, I think it was amazing I was coherent enough to function. It’s all still a little dream-like, and I’m not sure it’ll really feel real until I’m holding the book in my hands and can see the words I’ve written in print.

I may be a writer, but I’ve been struggling to find the words to write this post. It’s so big for me, such a huge moment and I really don’t know how to explain it. I guess all I really can say is how thrilled I am, and how eager I am to start this process. I also want to say thank you to all of the people who have helped me get to this point. If there’s one thing I’ve learned since I began writing, it’s that I can’t do it alone. Without the people pre-reading and editing my work, the people holding my hand once I put it out there, and the readers, especially the ones who give me feedback, my writing wouldn’t be anywhere near as good. And the process wouldn’t be half as much fun.