Fiona Glass: Coffee for a Kiss

It’s February, which means Valentines Day is almost upon us. So this week I thought I’d post one of my own little stories, which has a Valentines theme and is kind of cute. I first wrote this back in the Dark Ages (well, the early 2000s) and I think it originally appeared in a Torquere Press newsletter, and featured last year in my own newsletter. I hope you have fun reading it, and if you’d like to see more of my m/m romance books why not check out my website.

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Barista © Nicholas Horn; Coffee cup © Ibrahim Rifath; Hearts background © Freestocks, all on Unsplash.com

Coffee taste like mud? Hardly surprising—it was only ground this morning!

            Dan read the new sign above the coffee shop counter and groaned. ‘That one’s as old as Methuselah. I remember getting it in a Christmas cracker in about 1982.’

            The barista, young and dusky with a gold earring, held up his hands and grinned. ‘Don’t blame me—it wasn’t my idea. Although it does get the point across that the coffee’s fresh. We roast it ourselves.’

            ‘I can tell.’ Dan savoured the rich smell coming from the kitchen, and tried not to ogle the barista’s backside too obviously. He was nice-looking, with flashing brown eyes and a cheeky smile, and the pertest little tush Dan had seen in a long while.

            ‘So, what’ll it be?’

            I suppose a shag’s out of the question? ‘Skinny latte, please.’ He’d noticed his waistline getting saggy lately. Needed to do something about that.

            ‘Coming right up.’

            Not half as much as what I’ve got coming up…  He watched as the barista turned his back, measuring coffee, banging things, squirting hot milk. The guy had nice hands, too, with long deft fingers that made art of the ordinary tasks. Too soon the performance was over, and a steaming mug appeared on the counter.

            ‘Cheers.’ He fished in his pocket for small change, enjoying the pressure on his newly-awakened cock. ‘What do I owe you?’

            ‘Well, the coffee’s two pounds fifty.’ The barista winked. ‘But I wouldn’t mind if you gave me something else.’

            Dan tossed a handful of coins on the counter and grabbed the mug, wrapping February-frozen fingers around it and hoping they’d thaw out. Raising it to his face he breathed the richly scented steam in deep, took a sip, and felt the caffeine hit all the way to his toes. Mmm. That was good coffee… Then he registered the second part of what the barista had just said. ‘You what?’

            Another wink. ‘You’re a nice-looking guy. I was thinking along the lines of a long slow kiss.’

            Half way through another mouthful, Dan spluttered and coughed. ‘What? Here?’

            The barista’s grin was positively wicked. ‘Much as I fancy having you shag me on the counter top, people outside might be a little shocked. We could use the back room, though.’

            ‘Yeah?’ Dan met the twinkling brown gaze head on. ‘Oh. Yeah.’ He dumped the mug on the counter, contents barely tasted, and followed the barista’s back through the door. The storeroom was full of the heady scent of newly-roasted beans, and in the slightly subdued light it was also, suddenly, full of arms. The barista was standing right behind the door, and grabbed him as he came in. Dan went without resisting, letting the guy reel him in until his back was up against the gritty, unyielding surface of a breeze-block wall. What was in front of him was much more enticing, though. Thigh met slender thigh; chest rested against chest and the rough cotton fabric of the barista’s apron caught against his arms.

            ‘You’ve got a coffee moustache.’ The barista stared at him from inches away. ‘Let me help you with that.’ He stuck out his tongue and used it to circle Dan’s mouth, tracing the shape of his lips and flicking into the folds at the corners of his mouth. ‘Mmm. Always did like the taste of Arabica and hot milk.’

            Dan was enjoying the tongue, and the warmth of the other man’s body pressing against his own. But the words had given him an idea. ‘Hang on a jiffy.’ He dashed back into the shop, flipped the sign on the door to ‘closed’, mouthed ‘Sorry,’ at a disappointed-looking woman on the pavement outside, then grabbed the coffee he’d left on the counter top.

            Back in the dark fragrance of the storeroom he took a swig of the cooling liquid and swirled it around in his mouth. Then he leaned back in to the barista’s embrace, waited until their lips were just touching, and let a thin stream of coffee trickle onto the guy’s waiting tongue.

            The barista’s breath hitched. ‘Nice. Want more.’

            Dan was happy to oblige. He took another mouthful and repeated what he’d just done. The result sent an electric thrill rushing through his veins but he wanted more, wanted to touch the other man—especially that tush he’d been admiring from afar. One hand held the coffee mug, but the other was free. He rested it on the small of the barista’s back, then, greatly daring, slid it down to cup on delicious rounded cheek. It felt every bit as good as he thought it would—firm, smooth, and very squeezable. So he squeezed and was rewarded, through his mouth and tongue, with the thrum of a lush little moan.

The game lasted as long as the coffee did: mouthful after mouthful of latte circling his tongue, dribbling down, with the barista drinking it straight from his lips. An occasional drip ran down his chin, catching on his beard hairs, and the barista licked that off, too. Too soon, the mug was empty. He held it upside down and shook it to show that no more coffee was left.

            The barista pouted, then grinned and kissed him again anyway, lips soft and warm against his own. Then he swatted Dan on the backside and pushed him away. ‘I’d better get back to work. The customers will get grumpy otherwise. But tell me I’ll see you in here again.’

            Well, duh, Dan wanted to say. We’ve only been doing this on Valentine’s Day every year since we got married, and that’s six years ago. And I’ll be waiting for you tonight at home, just like I always do. He didn’t, though. He knew how much Mitchell enjoyed their little game. ‘Are you kidding?’ he said. ‘Of course I’ll be back. That was the best I’ve ever had.’

            ‘The coffee’s not bad, either,’ said the barista with a grin.

Gabbi Grey: Charlie David – An Innovator in LGBTQ content

This week I’m delighted to welcome a brand new contributor to the zine – Gabbi Grey, who writes contemporary, somewhat angsty m/m romance. She’s come up with a fascinating piece about gay Canadian actor and narrator Charlie David, who’s been at the forefront of LGBTQ content on TV for many years. He’s not someone I’m familiar with so it was really interesting to read about him. And if you fancy finding out more about Gabbi, you can check out her website here.

***

Pic credit: The Mo in Montrose on tumblr

Canadian Charlie David has been at the forefront of providing audiences with a glimpse into the gay experience for almost two decades now and he shows no signs of slowing down.

I first encountered Charlie as a narrator.  He helms one of my favorite series – Gregory Ashe’s Borealis Investigation series. North and Shaw are two endearing characters and Charlie brings them to life in a wonderful way.  He’s also narrated Damon Suede’s Hot Head as well as several series for Ella Frank including Confessions and Prime Time. Even now, he’s one of the few narrators whose voice I can conjure up at a will.  I wish I could have him narrate some of my books.

My second encounter with Charlie was as an actor.  I watched Shadowlands which was a series of three episodes.  Charlie didn’t star in the first two – one about a surgeon in 1928 who was obsessed with perfection (this one was a little dark and disturbing) or the story of two men in 1951 sorting out their relationship.  The final story was about a young couple.  One man falls ill and, tragically, dies.  The other man is left to sort out the grief and pain.  He does so by creating a painting of his dead lover.  OMG, all the feelz.  I still remember how I felt watching Charlie’s performance.  Stunned and moved.  Also, a song and video came out of that – Marc Devigne’s Ca Fa.  I watched it again while preparing to write this piece and I was moved just as much this time as those previous.

Charlie’s also a producer and director.  I recently watched his documentary film, Pat Rocco Dared. I loved how he showed the aging director’s love for the male love story.  Charlie also has produced some wonderful series out of Toronto including Drag Heals – about how embracing drag can bring healing – and Dating Unlocked.  I love queer people of all stripes finding love in whatever form that comes in.  He also did a documentary about the healing power of touch, Serviced. I was thrilled to see my cousin!  That one has a special place in my heart. Also worth checking out are: I’m a Porn Star: Gay4Pay, I’m a Stripper, and the older, but lovely Scenes from a Gay Marriage.

I’ve only touched on Charlie’s immense talent, but I encourage readers and connoisseurs of LGBTQ content to search out his body of work. https://www.imdb.com/name/nm1263747/

Jay Mountney: Serendipity

This week’s fiction offering is a lovely sweet romance that takes in the first eyes-across-the-room meeting and the eventual outcome – a honeymoon in a sun-kissed land. If you enjoy this slice of romantic heaven, all of Jay’s writing and books can be found on her website.

***

It started in a shared taxi. The rain was bucketing down and they both seized the door handle, each asserting themselves and their right to a ride, to get out of the weather.

No, wait, it started at the concert, when their eyes met across the auditorium, quite by accident.

But it started before that.

*****

James was walking up from the beach, musing on the wonder of rocks and patches of thrift, when he saw the discarded wrapper. He picked it up automatically, intending to find the nearest bin. Green was both his surname and his nature. As he was about to drop it in, muttering about litter louts and the environment, something made him look at it properly. It was the outside paper strip from a foil wrapped chocolate bar; as well as advertising the name of the product, it claimed in loud letters: YOU MAY BE A WINNER. James shrugged, but something, the weather, serendipity, environmental gnomes, made him put it in his pocket and continue homewards. He phoned the number, amused at himself and faintly guilty at the cost; these prize numbers were all about making money through the phone charges. It seemed he had won a ticket to a concert at the huge new arena. A pianist was performing a varied programme and he was free on Saturday evening – as usual. A serious (and unattached), gay environmentalist who didn’t enjoy ‘the scene’ was rarely out at weekends.

Even then, at the last moment he almost didn’t go. The sky was stormy and he had a new DVD to watch. But his sister phoned and told him he ought to get out more, so, although he didn’t think this was quite what she meant, he set off.

The young man at the ticket office appreciated the dark gold curls and the honed physique of the prize winner but didn’t even dare flutter his eyelashes at the aloof expression on the conventionally handsome face. He told James to enjoy himself and watched him head for the stairs, then turned his attention to the next in line.

*****

Iain stared petulantly at the computer screen. He was so tired of  trying to conform. His wife had worked out his ‘secret’ so his ‘good’ behaviour counted for nothing, and their acrimonious divorce had left him struggling to make ends meet, so ‘bad’ behaviour was unlikely to occur with any regularity. He surfed the net and ended up on eBay, bidding without much hope for a ticket to see his favourite pianist at a local venue. To his surprise, he won the bid at his lowest, rather than his highest figure, and hurried to pay the seller and wait for the post. Meanwhile, he continued to work at the programming assignment he’d accepted.

On the day of the concert he did grocery shopping in the afternoon and got drenched in one of the sudden downpours that seemed the norm for the month. By the time he’d showered, changed and dried his long black hair, scrunching it back tightly into a pony tail, he thought he might be too late for the concert, but public transport was on his side for once.

He gave a quick glance at the people in the queue, glad he had his ticket already, and didn’t need to wait for fate to be kind, then followed a group of people up to the doors that led to the stands of seating.

*****

During the interval, James looked round, wondering why this particular concert had attracted such a huge audience. It was good, but not, he thought, good enough to merit such a turnout; it wasn’t as if they could all be prize winners. He noticed the rapt expression on the face of the dark haired man directly across the aisle. He must have been looking hard, because their eyes met, in a sort of recognition, although they had never seen each other before. He was sure of that.

*****

Iain was still in a music-induced reverie when he felt eyes on him, and looked up to meet the gaze of a blond stranger. He turned away, flushing slightly and cross with himself at his automatic response. He was free to look, now, but when he did, the other man had turned his head and the moment had gone.

*****

Except that when they left, it was raining.

The entire crowd was trying to find taxis, which are as rare as jewels, especially when the weather makes them desirable.

If they hadn’t, if it hadn’t, and so on. But they had, and it did, all by happy accident. Their hands met and they shared the taxi.

*****

Yesterday.

Yesterday he had been solitary, slightly sad and somewhat serious.

Yesterday the most important thing in his life had been his job as a park ranger.

Yesterday he had been accustomed to living alone, to having to rely on fantasy for fulfilment.

Yesterday he had expected to continue in his self-imposed isolation, withdrawn from the social whirl that had sickened him with its superficial pleasures.

Yesterday his greatest loves had been the red squirrels and the quarrelsome gulls of the coastline he guarded.

Yesterday he had sighed when his sister told him to ‘get a life’.

Yesterday it had rained.

Today, there was Iain, and the sun was shining.

A whirlwind spring and summer were followed by a whirlwind wedding and a hastily organised honeymoon. 

The hotel was perfect, golden stone dreaming in the sun, and a room with a view of the mountains, snow-capped as he’d hoped. The place was run by a gay couple who made the atmosphere as comfortable as the rooms. Iain was pleased with their choice and hoped James was too. After freshening up and a few hugs (they’d keep the main course till later), they decided on a walk before dinner and went out to explore the village.

The steep, narrow, stone stairs that stood in for streets started from the hotel’s back courtyard. Strings of onions and garlic hung from wooden balconies and pots of geraniums and chrysanthemums straggled up the smaller steps at each entrance.  One doorway boasted a smart rose with striped petals and an air of modernity at odds with its surroundings. Further up a woman was washing her steps, and the rest of the street by default as the water gushed then trickled down the hill. Ian wondered if the rose looked forward to a daily deluge. James thought it was merely being brave and bold in the face of adversity as roses should always be.

There were people about. A couple of builders stood by their open-backed trucks blocking the cobbled main street (mercifully not stepped), chatting and exchanging news with passers-by. Iain was bemused by the strong similarity of all the men he saw. The younger ones, from tradesmen to homeward-bound clerks, were all short, dark-haired and stocky, quite handsome despite a decided lack of sophistication in their manner and clothing. At about sixty they turned inexplicably into replicas of garden gnomes, gnarled and stooped, prone to wearing outlandish caps and scarves. Despite the cloudless sky they all, young and old, carried umbrellas slung across their shoulders or hung from the back of their collars. He felt like a giant and even James, shorter than him by a good few inches, towered over the locals. He felt feckless, too, unencumbered by any protection from the unlikely rain.

The women were shorter still, dark-haired and pretty, calling to each other across the narrow lanes from one balcony to another. The sixties rule seemed to apply to them too. James said he thought the origins of northern European witches might have started here in these mountain villages. A crone whose nose almost met her chin shouted a cheerful greeting to them. James thought his Portuguese good enough to reply with a cheerful ‘bom dia’ but the woman cackled and repeated her ‘boa noite’ just as the church bells rang a dolorous seven, echoed thirty seconds later by a slower church clock, further down the valley.

Iain laughed at James’s mortified blush and pulled him down yet another street stair. Perhaps they could return to the hotel a different way. The small post office was still open but the only postcards on offer were tired views of the last skiing season in the mountain. It was a good job not many of their friends would expect postcards from a honeymoon couple. Their parents were a different matter and they would have to look further afield. A few of the gnomes were gossiping on stone seats around the bandstand that evidently served as a village centre. Faded posters advertised delights that by the pictorial content included grape harvests, new wine and dancing.

The lane narrowed further, taking them between gardens full of glowing flowers and ripening grapes. A dog suggested they were trespassing and was shouted into silence by its owner. A cat watched them pass and merely licked its tail, settling more firmly on the gatepost. They came out at the front of the hotel again, seeing the late summer reds and oranges of the vines on the slopes beneath them and hearing the clink of glasses in the outdoor dining area.

It was, Iain reflected, like a film-set, perhaps for a fairy tale or fantasy, and yet he’d never felt so real, so alive. He turned to his partner and found an answering smile. Yes, he concluded, they’d chosen the perfect place. And the perfect person to share it with. As they entered the hotel they heard music over the loudspeakers in the dining room. It was piano music and was, Iain realised, ‘their’ piece, the one played just before the interval in which their eyes had met. He looked at James and knew he’d recognised it too. And so they went in to dinner accompanied by the sound that had brought them together in the first place, and brought them here.

Jeff Baker: The Private Life of Jodie Dallas

Thanks Jeff for this thought-provoking article about an early portrayal of a gay character on US daytime television, at a time when this was kept very much in the nearest closet. It’s certainly an era I knew very little about – and a surprise role, perhaps, for actor Billy Crystal? Over to Jeff to explain…

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Pic credit: IMDB

            “This is the story of two sisters…”

            That opening line of the 1977 TV comedy “Soap” sets up the premise of the weekly sitcom spoof of daytime dramas (called “Soap operas” back then.) A show that was controversial even before its premiere. Religious groups in particular organized so many protests that the network could promote it with the line: “If you miss the premiere of Soap, you’ll be the only one.”

            Created and mostly written by Susan Harris, the show dealt frankly (for the time) with (among other things) sex and the fact that people enjoy sex, especially when the two sisters get together to talk.

            JESSICA: “Our mother never told us that it would be pleasant.”

            MARY: “What Mother said was that it was required, like going to school had been and the best thing to do was to lay back and make out your grocery list.”

            One of the show’s biggest controversies was the presence of openly Gay character Jodie Dallas, younger of two sons of Mary Dallas-Campbell (one of the aforementioned two sisters.) And Jodie remains controversial to this day in some circles.

            Played by Billy Crystal (yes, THAT Billy Crystal in one of his first breakout roles) Jodie was initially written as being a nelly, cross-dressing caricature who hatched the extreme plan of having a sex change operation so he can be with his football-player boyfriend. But neither Crystal nor the writers wanted Jodie to remain a stereotype and they worked to change how he was depicted making Jodie a well-rounded character, albeit one who was living in a soap opera. “It felt like we had the chance to do something special and important,” the actor recalled years later. The nelly aspects were dropped in favor of more human moments such as when Jodie is dumped by his boyfriend on the eve of hospital treatments and swallows a load of pills in an effort to end it all. Jodie lives and gets his act together.

            Jodie is pretty revolutionary for TV of the time: he has apparently been “out” all his life and makes no apologies for who he is and is one of the first regular Gay characters to love sports.

            And, like everyone else on the show, Jodie can be very funny. Witness the scene where he tells his mother and stepfather Burt that he’s going to be a father and stepdad Burt (the magnificent Richard Mulligan) gleefully freaks out. And then there’s his conversation with his dippy Aunt Jessica explaining that there have been Gays throughout history.

            JODIE: “Alexander the Great was Gay. Plato was Gay…”

            JESSICA: “Plato? Mickey Mouse’s dog was Gay?!?!”

            The controversies in later years come from the fact that Jodie has a one-night-fling with a woman that produces a child. Was Jodie really Bi all along? Or was the network pressuring the show to make him straight? LGBT fans today are leery of the idea that Jodie was anything but totally Gay and claim that his character was watered down due to pressure from network sponsors.

            Nonetheless, Jodie fights in court for the right to raise his daughter and is an excellent father. Watch the tender and funny scene where Jodie and his infant daughter Wendy are together for the first time.

            Of course, there are soap opera-style complications to their lives.. Like a kidnapping, the court case and Jodie’s accidental regression through hypnosis to a previous life as an elderly Jewish man.

            Looking back today with what we know about the complexities of sexuality and its fluidity, Jodie’s seeming indecision about his sexual preference makes sense and that he was most likely Pansexual instead of Gay or possibly Bi.

            “Soap” is still playing in reruns and is on DVD and is a very well-done series especially in its first three seasons. It can be hilarious one moment (Jodie and his brother trying to gross each other out) and heart wrenching the next, as in the scene where Jodie finally convinces his brother Danny that he really is Gay after years of his being in denial.

            “I’m still the Jodie who plays tennis with you, I’m still the Jodie who bowls with you, I’m still the Jodie who laughs with you, I’m still the Jodie who counts on you.”

            Jodie Dallas is still among the Gay characters in the pre-Will and Grace era who was a touchstone to LGBT youth who didn’t see themselves depicted in any positive way on screen. And the show still holds up and is entertaining generations who weren’t born during “Soap’s” four-year run forty-plus years ago. When my twenty-something niece saw the show recently she laughed her head off and pointed at Jodie and asked “Who’s that guy who looks like Billy Crystal?”

            For more information on Crystal’s portrayal of Jodie, check out Billy Crystal’s autobiography “Still Foolin’ ‘Em,” published by Henry Holt and Company, 2013.

Addison Albright: Bad Ankle

Don’t you just love it when a hiking trip goes wrong? This one has a little pain, but a lot of comfort. And Addison wrote it using no fewer than fifteen prompt words from a random word generator. Given the wild difference between many of the words, I take my hat off to her!

You can find more of Addison’s writing (and of course, her books) at her website, here.

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Pic credit: Martin Jernberg on Unsplash.com

Our descent from the north ridge took longer than it should have. More than the hike up had taken, that was for sure. I never would have guessed that Phillip, an Army veteran for Christ’s sake, would jump at the sight of a mouse and twist his ankle.

“For the last time,” Phillip grumbled, “it was a fucking rat.”

“Sure,” I replied. My tone implied a tease rather than acquiescence. Although I had to admit the critter had been on the large side for a mouse, so it might have been a small rat. I couldn’t eliminate that theory, anyway. There was no way to prove it one way or another at this point. The damned thing had come and gone in a flash, and I wasn’t an expert on rodents anyway. Neither was Phillip for that matter.

Phillip leaned heavily on me as we approached a narrowing of the path at a steep section passing between two boulders. I edged in front since it made more sense for me to precede him to make sure he didn’t fall on his ass once he got past the bit where he could use the large rocks for balance as he hopped through.

His lips thinned into a tight grimace as he watched me get into position. The misery personified on his features was like a bucket of icy water thrown on the jokey mood I’d tried to foster. I didn’t know if it was more from his physical pain or the fact he hated to be seen as less than strong and fully capable, but it twisted my heart.

“It might’ve been a rat,” I conceded. “I jumped too. I was just lucky there wasn’t a rock in the wrong place when I came down.”

“There’s no ‘might’ve’ to it.” The muscles in his arms bulged as he braced himself on the boulders and swung his body through the passage. Once he joined me on the other side I reached out and slipped both arms around his waist, pulling him in for a hug.

“I love you,” I murmured.

“Love you, too, Dustin.” Phillip’s words were muffled by my hair as he planted a couple kisses near the top of my head. “Sorry,” he added. I barely heard that last whispered word.

“Shit happens.” I shrugged and slipped to the side, tightening one arm around his back and hooking my fingers through his stiff belt. “Nothing to apologize for. It wasn’t your fault.”

I felt—more than saw—him straighten his back. I wasn’t surprised. “Tough” and “determined” were two words that exemplified Phillip’s character. No way he’d wimp out. He’d steel himself to face whatever he had to deal with no matter the hurdles he encountered.

“Got any bars yet?” Phillip asked.

I reached into my pocket and pulled out my phone. We were almost to the 4-wheeler accessible flat stretch that would be the final leg of our journey back to Phillip’s sister Gracie’s house.

“Finally. A couple,” I said. “What’s her number?”

“Fuck,” he groaned. “I don’t have it memorized. It’s in my contacts list.”

And his phone was charging on Gracie’s kitchen counter. “Email address?” I asked. “I can at least message her with that. Those beep on her phone so she might see it right away.”

“I don’t know. She’s got a string of numbers in it that mean nothing. I just click the contact to send her stuff. I forwarded you that email from her last week. You still have it?”

“Oh yeah, now that you mention it…” I opened my archive folder and scrolled. “Found it.”

I copied the address and fired off a message giving her my phone number and imploring her to call ASAP.

We hadn’t gone even twenty more yards before my phone rang. I answered it on speaker so Phillip could hear her, too. The sound of Phillip’s niece, Ellen, practicing the piano in the background was the first thing we heard.

“Gracie?” Phillip asked.

“Phillip! What’s going on? Are you guys okay?”

“Nothing major,” he replied. “I twisted my ankle, but it’s not broken or anything like that.”

“Shit. Well, you don’t need to walk on it. Hold on.” The phone went silent for a minute, presumably muted, then the background piano practice returned along with Gracie. “Hey, Alex will head your way on the 4-wheeler. You can return on it, and he’ll hike back with Dustin.”

Phillip’s body relaxed perceptibly. “Great. Thanks.”

“I’ll crush up some ice ready for you. See you soon.”

I ended the call and slipped the phone into my pocket. “Just a little farther, then we can sit and wait,” I said.

“First thing I’m going to do is crack open that rosé we brought,” he said.

I shook my head. “No more than a sample taste. You’re going to have to take some pain meds. That doesn’t mix with alcohol.”

Phillip sighed. “Fine,” he grumbled.

I gave him a squeeze. “Love you.”

“Love you, too.”

Jay Mountney: Birthday

It’s time for another little non fiction piece and today I’m delighted to have this sweet poem by Jay. Non-UK readers might like to take note of the difference in age of consent between the UK and many other areas of the world. As Jay says, “I should point out that I am British and in UK the ‘age of consent’ (for both men and women) is 16. The voting age and the age for buying alcohol is, however, 18. And of course the age for buying assault rifles is 200. This was written with a particular media story in mind: both protagonists were teenagers and the older one (by a few weeks) was placed on the sex offenders’ register because the pair dared to love each other at just the wrong age. Their parents not only objected but called down the full force of the law. I think most police forces and prosecutors are more lenient today, but this was written a few years ago.

Don’t forget you can check out the rest of Jay’s writing here!

***

Pic credit: Alexander Grey on Unsplash.com

While I wait, the clock chimes.
I note time’s passing and the hour
Of  bewitchment nears,
Weaving the magic of years.

Can a single second add maturity,
Or responsibility of a sudden kind?
Does the right to roll home drunk and appear on the electoral roll
Depend upon a minute’s passing?

Is there a difference
(Like day and night, like dark and light,
Like sweet and sour, like here and gone,)
Between this moment and the next one?

I  have been powerless to show my love
Until the new day proves you adult,
Just turned sixteen (and sweet, unkissed);
But soon we can consummate our dream.

What if the striking hour should turn you back
Into an ordinary man,
Available at last, no longer charmed?
Could that enchantment fade so fast? Before we find out, before time has had time
To trick our senses, plays with our love like a wanton god,
At exactly midnight I shall kiss you and say,
‘Happy Birthday.’

Jeff Baker: In the Caves

Real Life TM has intervened temporarily which means I’m not getting time to update the zine quite as often as I’d like. However, this should calm down soon and in the meantime, here’s another cute little story from Jeff, as part of his Marogas Hills tale. I hope you enjoy it – and don’t worry, Jeff assures me there’ll be another episode soon!

***

Pic credit: Tsvetoslav Hristov

            They had climbed the hills and found a passage between two of them when the sun came up. There was an area like a natural bowl made of hills and a steep rock wall in the middle of the hills.

            “There,” Zinack said, pointing to a clump of dark green bushes amid the rocks. They could see  a patch of darkness through the thick greenery.

            “The caves?” Zayas asked.

            Zinack nodded and signaled for quiet. Zayas wondered why, if they were alone.

            They climbed over the rocks and past the brush to a low opening in the reddish stone. Zinack pointed and Zayas followed him into the cave. Once inside, Zinack breathed a sigh of relief.

            “We should be safe now,” Zinack said. “Even if they track us, they won’t be able to come in here.”

            The inside of the cave was about the size of the back room they usually slept in. The roof was low and Zinack stretched his arm up and touched the roof. Zayas looked around; there was what looked like a tunnel toward the back of the cave.

            Zayas was going to ask something when he felt a breath of wind from behind him and heard a sound. A deep sound, like a huge animal breathing. Then there was another rush of air.

            The cave was breathing.

            Zinack nodded. “There’s a wind hole a little further down the cave. Just steer clear of it if we have to go in deeper.” He felt along the walls of the cave and peeled what first looked like shadow but was a black moss. He sniffed it and smiled, then he tore the sheet of moss in half.

            “Here, have some of this,” Zinack said, handing it to Zayas. “It’s good as long as it hasn’t gone yellow.”

            Zayas cautiously tried the moss. It was surprisingly salty but tasty. He hadn’t eaten anything since their rations at sunset.

            “This is good.” Zayas said. “How did you know about edible cave moss? Did that water cave monk tell you about it?”

            “Something like that,” Zinack said. “I read about it when I was in school. The monk confirmed it would be here.”

            Zayas shook his head. He had never learned to read, it was not considered necessary for a slave to read but Zinack had not always been a slave.

            “We’ll be safe here, but don’t try to step out of the cave,” Zinack said. “We’ll figure out where we’re going after we’re sure nobody is tracking us.”

            Zayas nodded and finished eating the moss.

            Zayas woke with a start.

            The angle of light from the opening meant he had been asleep for a few hours. He was huddled up next to Zinack, his soft breathing and the breath noises of the cave had lulled him to sleep. It must be near Middle-Day.

            He reached up and put his hand on Zinack’s shoulder; he was still asleep. Zayas realized he was staring at their bare arms where the binding tatts had been. Zayas realized he couldn’t remember sleeping this late, or even being allowed to sleep this late. He smiled as he lay his head back on Zinack’s chest.

            He heard a sound form outside the cave. In the distance but getting closer. Talking. And barking. Trackers! And their dogs!

            Zayas shook Zinack awake and clamped a hand over his mouth and then pointed at the cave entrance.

            The sounds were coming closer.

            “We need to run.” Zayas whispered.

            “We can’t.” Zinack said.

            “To the back of the caves,” Zayas said scrambling to his feet and pointing to the dark hole in the far wall.

            Zinack grabbed his arm. “No. We can’t go to the lower caves. They are back there.”

            “They?” Zayas asked but Zinack hushed him. The sounds of the dogs were coming closer.

            “In there,” came the voice. “They’re in there!”

            Zinack clenched his fists. Zayas glanced around the floor and walls of the cave looking for rocks, branches, anything to use as a weapon.

            “I will die here before I let anyone become my master again,” Zayas muttered.

            They could hear the dogs and trackers just outside the cave entrance and even see their shadows. Then there was a low, guttural roar that swelled around them and then a cold wind from the back of the cave blasted past them almost knocking them over. They could hear the wind roaring outside the cave and see dust and leaves swirling in the daylight and then they heard the screaming of the men and the agonized howling of the dogs.

            Then the wind died down into silence.

            “The power of the Dal Lords,” Zinack said. He looked pale.

            Oh, Zinack, what did you get us into? Zayas thought.

            “We cannot stay here,” Zinack said. “By middle-week all three moons will be in the sky. We must leave here by then.”

            “Where do we go?” Zayas asked.

            “Toward the Moonrise,” Zinack said. “Along the edge of the desert. We will be out of the domain of our Master.” He shrugged. “That is all I know.”

            Zayas held Zinack and they kissed, but Zayas noticed Zinack was still shaking.

                               —-end—

Kaje Harper: Redefined

Hello again, and happy New Year! Let’s hope 2023 is full of m/m romance and everything else that’s nice. I’m starting the new year as I started off the zine last year, with a story by Kaje Harper. This one’s both sweet and amusing, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. You can find all Kaje’s books on her website, if you’d like to read more.

***

Pic credit: Matheus Farias on Unsplash.com

I’d had a crush on Bishop Stoneleigh since the day he walked in to take over our department, looking like Clark Kent and talking like a college professor. I mean, the guy was everything I drooled over on the fandoms I followed. Probably only a few years older than me, but had a vibe that made most of us want to sit up and salute. Perhaps not everyone with the same body part.

Bishop Stoneleigh. Black hair and high cheekbones and sharp wit and no tolerance for sloppy work. He could rip you up one side and down the other so incisively it didn’t all sink in till hours later.

No, I never deliberately screwed up to get called into his office for a one-on-one reprimand. That’d be stupid, right? I’m not stupid. A little impulsive, maybe…

I was used to him coming in earlier and working even later than I did, and I was the night-owl of our group. Our last boss left without warning and apparently with a hunk of cash, leaving the department books in a mess. Bishop― Mr. Stoneleigh to me, no matter how many fantasies I had of him running his hands through my hair while I called him “Bish”― had a hell of a job cut out to turn things around.

I stuck my head around the door like usual to say “Good night, sir,” and cut the words off short.

He lay sleeping, pillowed on a binder, glasses askew, suit rumpled enough to show his bare wrists below the cuffs of his pristine white shirt. He wasn’t snoring, but there was the tiniest hint of a rasp as he breathed through parted, full lips. In sleep, he suddenly looked his real age, and something like tenderness caught my breath. Poor guy’s been burning the candle at both ends.

What now? Logic said I should leave and pretend I never saw him there. Sleep is a vulnerable thing, and I’d bet he wouldn’t like just anyone watching him that way. Then again, I wasn’t just anyone.

This is my chance, right? I could make a mark, stand out from the crowd of techie underlings he commanded.

Of course, it’d have to be the right kind of mark.

Rocket fuel, maybe. Most of the department lived on Mountain Dew, and the breakroom fridge was well-stocked, but Bishop was a coffee man. Extra large, black, one sugar. Not that I’d paid attention deliberately. One just notices these things.

One also notices the excellent vocabulary with which Bishop described the breakroom coffee. Swill, dregs, and sewage were the ones I hadn’t had to look up. He always brought a thermos, but by this time of night it’d be empty. The coffee shop on the ground floor was open till two AM, though.

I bribed the barista with twenty bucks to make a new pot of coffee and ordered an extra large, carefully stirred in the sugar, and took it back up the elevator.

Bishop still slept where I’d left him. His glasses had slipped a little more. I went over to his side, and set the coffee down on his laminated coaster. Winter Soldier. Nice one. I’d thought he might wake up with having someone that close, but he snoozed on, the limp sleep of exhaustion.

If he didn’t wake up, the coffee would get cold. I wasn’t a fan, myself, but it seemed like hot was an important part of the package. I cleared my throat.

Bishop jolted up and flailed his hands. One elbow knocked over the cup and the tide of hot coffee that spilled across his desk hit my crotch square on.

“Ouch! Shit!” I jumped back, hands cupped protectively over my nads as I tried to tent the scalding fabric away from tender skin.

Bishop leaped to his feet and grabbed my arms, bleary dark eyes staring right into mine. “Charlie!”

“Bish!”

He blinked and his gaze sharpened. “What did you call me?”

My brain caught up with my mouth a moment too late. Steaming your balls is a recipe for not paying attention to your words. “Nothing. I mean, I said I wish I hadn’t done that.”

“Hah.” He glared at me but his lush mouth turned up at the corners. “You called me Bish.”

“You called me Charlie,” I countered inanely, because he was the boss and he’d called me Charlie the last four weeks.

“I haven’t been Bish since my little sister outgrew her teens.”

“Sorry, sir.”

He let go of my arms, and a snicker escaped his lips. “Seriously? All that work to maintain the correct gravitas and that’s how my subordinates think of me?”

“No, no, I’m pretty sure it’s just me,” I hurried to say, then felt the heat rise in my neck and face. No doubt red and splotchy, because that was what my skin liked to do. “Sorry, Mr. Stoneleigh.”

“What are you doing here at this hour, Charlie? Didn’t you get last week’s memo about a healthy work-life balance?”

“Yeah, but I figured you didn’t mean it.”

He sighed and ran a hand over his face. “He figured I didn’t mean it.”

“Well, you’re still here.”

“True.” He blinked, then pulled open a desk drawer and found a handful of napkins. With his first swipe at the liquid on his desk, he paused. “Hey, that’s hot.” He lifted the cup, eyed the logo, then tipped the last drops into his mouth. “You brought me hot coffee.”

“Um.”

“That’s not your job.” He pushed his glasses more firmly up his nose and went back to wiping up. “You’re my best programmer. The one guy with priorities and a work ethic, and a sense of humor. You don’t need to fetch coffee.”

“I thought it’d be a nice gesture.” I was still standing there holding my slacks tented out over my dick.

“Top grades for initiative. Perhaps not for execution.”

“Story of my life,” I muttered.

“Are you okay? Did you burn yourself?”

“I’ll live.” The impulse to ask if he wanted to check and make sure was completely resistible. Completely.

“At least you didn’t soak your slacks at the beginning of the day. I did, once.”

“At least coffee isn’t yellow, like Dew. Slightly less like I pissed myself.”

I got that quirk of a smile again. “Charles, can you keep a secret?”

“Not my strongest suit,” I admitted.

He actually laughed. “Well, it’s not much of a secret. I’m leaving this job in two weeks. The boss found a new hire with the actual skills to do the work, instead of faking it like I am.”

“You were doing fine!” I got mad on his behalf. “He could’ve given you more than a month.”

“No, no, you don’t get it. This was always temporary. I only took the job on the grounds that he would hire someone suitable as expeditiously as he could.”

“Oh. Well, we’ll miss you.” No more Clark Kent glasses and raised eyebrow?

“Will you?” He checked his chair for drips and then sat, looking up at me. “You, specifically?”

“Um, yeah. Sir.”

“That right there.” He pointed finger-guns at me. “When I leave, I will no longer be your boss and you won’t be my employee.”

“That’s what leaving generally implies, yeah.”

“So in two weeks―” He snagged the corner of my pocket and tugged me a step closer. “―when it’s not unethical anymore, do you think you might want to go for coffee with me?”

“Ugh. Coffee.” I bit my lip as the startling implications caught up with my sleep-deprived brain. “I mean, yes, yeah, I’d like that.”

“Donuts if you prefer, maybe. Doritos. Or we could go wild and go out for real food.”

I needed clarity here. “Are you asking me on a date?”

“Not now. That would be against company policy. I’m asking what will happen in two weeks, if I ask you.”

A slow smile tugged at my mouth and a much more pleasant heat warmed me from the inside. “Well, then, you’ll have to try it and find out,” I said. “Anticipation is the spice of life, Bish.”

***

Jay Mountney: Last Christmas

We couldn’t let Christmas go by without a Christmas themed story, now could we? So here’s a sweet-yet-sad little tale from Jay Mountney, obviously inspired by the old George Michael Christmas song. You can find details of all Jay’s books and stories at her website – do check them out and maybe treat yourself to a last-minute stocking-filler or two!

The zine will be taking a short break over the festive season to let all our contributors a well-earned rest. You can picture us lying on sofas, stuffed with turkey and chocolates, or zonked out of our brains on Prosecco or artisan gin. We’ll be back in the new year, suitably refreshed, with more m/m stories for your reading delectation.

In the meantime, Happy Christmas from the RoM/Mantic Reads team! And over to you, Jay…

***

Pic credit: Jay Mountney

Last Christmas…

I remember it as clearly as yesterday, and you’re lying when you say it all passed in an alcoholic blur because of your new job and celebrating and so on. We were living together so it would have been a bit hard to fool me that much. Most of the time you were sober and a bit morose about having to move, to leave, even though you were pleased with the new status and even more with the new pay package.

I gave you my heart…

…right after the office party, on the way to the station. You were grumbling about having to pretend we weren’t together and I suggested we should stop pretending, let the world know, get married (it’s legal now, after all) and let the office busybodies have their nine days’ wonder, shock and salacious gossip. I said I would come to London with you, find a job somewhere, somehow, so that we could be together. We stopped under one of those huge streetlights on the station approach and you kissed me right there in public. Well, OK, there weren’t many public around and the ones there were were wrapped up in their own thoughts and destinations. But you kissed me without looking over your shoulder and I remember the sleet glistening on your hair under the light, the fiery coldness of your lips and the way my heart sang. Then you held my hand till we had to leave loose and run helter-skelter for the last train, laughing.

Neither of us had had that much to drink. We never did at those office things, too scared, I suppose, of giving ourselves away. So instead I gave my heart away and when we got home we fucked, or rather made love, till almost dawn.

The very next day…

It was Christmas Eve and we went into the village to buy a tree. We thought they might be cheaper, with less than twenty-four hours to go. We found a really nice little tree outside the supermarket, with a huge ‘reduced’ sign on it and we were just going to go in when Anna, that new girl from the typing pool, came past. We hadn’t known she lived in the same suburban village as us; she’d left the party early and of course we normally travelled in by car so we wouldn’t have run across her. She looked surprised then asked if we were together, with one of those smirking, knowing looks that some people seem to find appropriate. I was just saying yes, proud and dizzily happy when you said no, we were just flatmates. I felt the bottom drop out of my world.

We didn’t even decorate the tree and it just stood there all dark and bare till I threw it out on New Year’s Eve, tired of the needles dropping on the carpet, dry and spiked like my thoughts.

You left on the Sunday night and you tossed me your keys without a care in the world.

This year…

I was surprised to see you, pleased for you to hear about the promotion and the return up north, but not impressed that you seemed to think I’d just have been waiting all year, like some kind of doll you can throw into a box and take out again when it suits you. You were never that great a ‘catch’ despite the inflated salary. I could always have found someone else but we were good together or at least I thought we were. You didn’t. Obviously.

…someone special.

He’s already asked me privately and he’s arranged this romantic public proposal under the mistletoe at his mum’s house. They know, too, so there won’t be any outcry, just lots of people pleased for us. He’s really dependable, and not bad-looking. I’m going to be happy.

But sometimes, very privately, I just wish it was last Christmas all over again.

Christmas fun with the team #2

Here’s another selection of entertaining answers to the questions I set the team. I must say cats seem to be popular in this instalment! Have fun reading them, check out the ‘Meet the Team’ tab above for links to everyone’s websites and/or books, and have a great time over the next few days celebrating your favourite winter festival.

***

Pic credit: Moondance on Pixabay.com

What’s the one thing you’d take to a desert island?

Rebecca Cohen: a magic lamp with ready-to-rub genie in situ

Alexa Milne: Always a tricky one as it depends on the island. It says desert not deserted so I’m going with there being people there and civilisation. In this case, I’d take my laptop. I know it’s a bit sneaky.

K.L. Noone: Definitely some sort of laptop with portable self-sufficient wifi – practicality, for rescue, and also a way to read and write while waiting!

Chris Quinton: Factor 50+ sun block – I burn too easily

What’s your favourite (or least favourite) Christmas song?

Rebecca Cohen: Stille Nacht – the German version of Silent Night is a favourite thanks to 7 years in Switzerland

Alexa Milne: Favourite though it makes me cry is Christmas List. I can’t stand O Holy Night.

K.L. Noone: As a punk rock and pop-punk kid, most of my favorite Christmas songs fall into that category! Songs like the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Christmastime,” or the My Chemical Romance cover of “All I Want for Christmas,” or Green Day’s “Xmas Time of Year”…or even the Rise Against cover of “Making Christmas,” from the Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack! There’s a good Rock Christmas playlist on Spotify, which we had on while putting up our tree…

Chris Quinton: I’m something of a Scrooge – I dislike them, and cheesy Christmas movies.

If you could shape-shift, what creature would you change into?

Rebecca Cohen: A cat – they have the life of Riley in my house and I want in on their sweet deal.

Alexa Milne: I’d love to be a cat as long as I could be a completely spoiled and pampered cat getting to choose what I eat, when I sleep, when I go out. Oh the mischief I could make and be forgiven every time and loved. I could even have my own social media!

K.L. Noone: Some sort of large happy house cat, like a big fluffy Maine Coon: indoor, cozy, well fed, lots of toys, and soft blankets! Aside from that, it would be fun to be able to fly, so perhaps a raven, or something along those lines – not too frightening, but clever!

Chris Quinton: Now, that’s an easy one! An otter, every time!