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.

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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!

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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.”

***