Enjoy the beginning of my latest published story in the Dreamspinner anthology, A Taste of Honey. I’m very excited about this story. It’s only a 17K short story, but it’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever written.
Chapter 1: Pitter Patter
Gather round to hear the tale of a twink who dared enter the urban forest, a young buck named Tyler who trusted his best pal Derrick to be his bear guide, leading Tyler to his one and only hairy love. Tyler and Derrick themselves had tussled once, their own night in the forest, sweating and fucking and grinding together, whimpering and grunting, and together they rained upon the forest and each other a splattering of goopy mess, and then reveled in happy exhaustion.
But it was only one night in the forest.
Who knows why?
Who ever knows?
Their chance for love turned into friendship, and it is a hard magic that can transform a friendship back into love. With Derrick’s assistance, Tyler the Twink (though he disliked that name) crossed the forest, light of step, hunting for bears, looking for love. But he did not seek out all bears.
One bear specifically.
The Great White Bear, though the man was not technically white, but that’s what they called him throughout this Midwestern kingdom, a flavor named Chicago.
And in this kingdom the gays were plentiful, supple and succulent, beefy-strong men who had grown winter hair on their chests, then burned dark in the summer sun. In this kingdom, oft called the city of broad shoulders, its residents also enjoyed the “comes-with-the-broad-shoulders” features. In other words, it was also a city of fat muscles, engorged biceps, and thick waists. Some of them enjoyed a black treasure trail leading from navel to below, wispy black smoke promising fire destined for ignition. The tree-trunk thighs, chunky butts wrapped in ass-grabbing jeans or maybe wrapped in lazy sweats on a Saturday morning in Boystown. These were the blond farm boys come from Illinois’ hamlets. The dark-haired jocks, sweating on their way home from the gym. Balding muscle daddies with a beer belly. Bronze-skinned men standing tall, pumping gas, guzzling beer, holding hands. Men of many colors, thicknesses, and laughs, this kingdom was ripe with these men, strong and big-jawed, a city of bears, otters, and many more forest creatures besides.
Tyler the Twink (who honestly quite resented that name) discussed his quest while dropping off his dogs.
“It’s Bear Coffee,” Tyler said. “Every Thursday night the bears take over a coffee shop on Broadway. I’m hoping he comes tonight. He has to. I don’t have any other leads. I don’t even know his name.”
Looking down at the dogs, Derrick said, “I don’t remember if they’re supposed to get a half cup or cup. Why didn’t you feed them at home?”
“I was out of puppy chow. I picked some up on the way over. Don’t worry, I wrote it down. Everything. The emergency vet and stuff like that.”
“Wouldn’t I just call you?”
“Sure, but after you call the emergency vet. If it’s an emergency. Just don’t let them eat plastic off your floor and there won’t be an emergency. No chocolate.”
Derrick said, “Duh.”
Derrick and Tyler had recently crossed a threshold in their friendship, the “will-you-watch-my-dogs” level, which, as you well know, is something. It is not “airport-pickup-at-2:00-a.m.” friendship, but Tyler trusted his beloved pups to no other human being, even for a few hours. Derrick and Tyler’s fling had been eight months earlier, from which had sprung a tentative friendship, then a more solid friendship, evolving to the point where either could call to announce “I’m not having a great day.”
On those days where the kingdom had worn them down, they listened to each other and counseled as best they could. Tyler’s advice was often “You’re smart. You can handle this and anything they throw at you.” Derrick’s advice ran along the lines of “You’re strong, Tyler. Drink some water. Eat an orange. Maybe a good night’s sleep.” In fairness to this tale, sleep was Derrick’s answer to everything, to stress, to credit card bills, to unrequited desire and occasionally even being tired.
The dog-threshold crossing had literally occurred three minutes earlier when Pitter and Patter, Tyler’s miniature pugs who had tentatively crossed over Derrick’s kitchen doorway, sniffed their way cautiously into Derrick’s second floor apartment. And when Derrick saw their confused hesitation, how long it took for them to actually get inside, and then their accidental skittering across the kitchen linoleum, Derrick’s last bit of dog-sitting-resistance melted. In fact, he found himself surprisingly anxious for Tyler to leave because he wanted to watch pug antics as they explored his home.
Truly this was a surprise, because Derrick rarely wanted Tyler to leave.
“Luck and cranberries,” Tyler said.
The phrase is not worth explaining, gentle reader, just an affectionate good-bye based on a four-month-old joke. You have those intimacies with friends. You know how it goes.
“Good luck,” Derrick said vaguely, his eyes following Pitter and Patter’s pitter and patter pawing around the kitchen, unsure in their step, occasionally bumping into cupboards. It was adorable.
“Wait,” Derrick said, looking up. “Where are you going? Meet who?”
“The guy. The guy I told you about on the phone.”
Derrick searched his memory and remembered he had heard a description earlier in the week, a raven-haired man of solid jaw with a tight buzz cut. A shock of black hair pointing straight up. Some slight gray on the sides, suggesting a man in his late 30’s or early 40s.
Derrick said, “I remember. You saw him near the new Starbucks downtown somewhere.”
“Yeah, the construction site in the Loop,” Tyler said, already lost in numerous fantasies. “I don’t know his name. But he was saying good-bye to his work buddies on the site as I approached, and then I walked behind him for a block and a half until he stopped into that piano bar, the Zebra Lounge.”
“Your puppies are gnawing a kitchen-table chair,” Derrick said, falling in love. “Do they really think they can eat a chair?”
Tyler was used to men falling in love with his puppies, so he ignored his pal. He said, “I had intended to shop for new work shoes, but instead I ducked into the bar because I desperately wanted to see the construction guy kiss another man. Or maybe he didn’t know it was a gay piano bar? He drank two beers and left. He tipped the piano player. The whole place even got campy once or twice and he sat there grinning. So, he knew. He’s definitely gay.”
“Could be a straight guy who likes piano music.”
“But he talked to someone,” Tyler said. “Made two minutes of chitchat with this older guy, a bear with a bushy red beard. After the construction guy left I waited five minutes and then approached Red Beard and asked if I had seen him and his buddy together somewhere, leaving it vague and open, and he said that he barely knew the construction guy who just left. Someone—”
Derrick picked up the thread. “—someone he occasionally saw at Bear Coffee. Right. I remember this now.”
“Yes, which is tonight,” Tyler checked his watch. “Bear Coffee starts in thirty minutes. I’ve decided he’s going to show up. He has to. I think I’m in love.”
Derrick said, “Good. It’ll only take you twenty minutes to get there from here. Come in here and talk to me about your dogs so I don’t fuck this up. Tell me how to get them to stop fighting or chewing and stuff like that.”
Tyler stepped beyond the entryway and smelled his way through the kitchen. Derrick liked to bake things. Tyler liked to sample things. But there was no baking smell tonight, just the reassuring stack of pans and open cookbooks with scribbles in them, doodles, and phone numbers. The whole house felt like you could scribble a phone number anywhere, on a wall, in a magazine cover, which is not to say that Derrick’s home was grubby, but it had this comfortable and worn feeling to it, items in wrong rooms but not messy, just really, really comfy. Open paperback books facedown on the dining room table and Derrick’s reading glasses on top of a stereo speaker for no apparent reason. Tyler had once visited and found fresh tulips in the bath tub. When asked, Derrick insisted he was using the bathtub as a “big vase” and invented a ridiculous statistic instead of admitting he forgot why he put them there.
Derrick’s living room furniture was plush, two overstuffed navy couches specifically engineered for maximum nap-taking comfort, fat pillows and a wolf-fur throw rug so realistic you could imagine a naked wolf at the door demanding its return. But the wolf would be shit out of luck; the pelt was synthetic. Mechanical line drawings of bridges hung in sturdy brown frames on the patterned-wallpapered walls, boring illustrations only an engineer could love.
The pups eyed the navy couch and each other, growing their resolve to scale the front, to reach that naptastic summit they intuitively knew peaked far above them. This couch was their Mount Everest.
Tyler said, “Don’t let them on your furniture. You’ll never get them off.”
He snapped his fingers at Pitter, then Patter, and they ceased their scheming though anyone could tell they resented the master’s interference. In defeat, they padded the Berber carpet, a masculine tweed that looked like a browned cookie warm from the oven but—as the pups discovered—did not taste like one.
Derrick collapsed on the couch, lying on his stomach, and asked questions about the dogs, dragging his hand along the floor so the pups could race up, smell him, lick his salty skin, and run away. Tyler never tired of chatting about them so he stayed longer than intended, trapped by the comfort, the ease of Derrick’s home until he checked his phone and realized he would be late.
He hopped up and said, “Oh.”
Derrick did not move from the couch. “You’re fine. You don’t want to be the first to show up anyway.”
Tyler said, “How do I look?”
Derrick said, “You look good.”
“Duh. I always look good. But do I look great?”
Derrick raised himself on one arm and studied Tyler head to toe. He liked Tyler’s short copper-colored hair, more brown than red, the natural curl that followed the shape of his ear. He liked Tyler’s eager blue eyes, their surprise at so many things and how often they expressed natural curiosity. He liked the big Adam’s apple, a flaw in Tyler’s beauty but Derrick liked it anyway, along with his lithe body and his faded salmon T-shirt tucked into jeans, jeans that were probably named by someone famous.
Derrick spoke with an inflection that did not register with Tyler. “You look great.”
Tyler nodded, satisfied. Derrick would tell him if a hair was out of place. They were buddies.
Derrick said, “Thirty-seven percent of all kitchen accidents happen in coffee houses. Be careful.”
Tyler said, “That one didn’t even make sense.”
Derrick said, “They can’t all be winners.”
Tyler said, “Thanks for watching the boys. C’mere, you hooligans, and give Dad a kiss good-bye.”
They trotted to Tyler.
Derrick said, “Bring me back a cookie or a blond brownie or something.”
Tyler said, “Not doing that. Why don’t you bake something?”
Tyler stood and touched his pockets to make sure he had his phone, keys, and money clip. A wallet could make your ass look chunky, and tonight was too important for Tyler to look less than his best. He dropped and kissed his pugs good-bye. Again. He thanked Derrick and started to promise he would return at a decent hour, but if his fantasy man wanted to grab a beer after Bear Coffee, wouldn’t he go?
As Tyler crossed the apartment toward the front door, Derrick spoke from the couch. “Seriously, bring me a cookie. The desserts cookbook I like has small print and I can’t find my reading glasses.”
Over his shoulder, Tyler said, “Your glasses are on the stereo speaker. The one behind the big plant.”
“Thank you,” Derrick yelled lazily, but Tyler had already exited the back door. Derrick didn’t bother to retrieve his glasses. He could feel the dogs licking the palm of his hand as they plotted how to use his dangling arm as a ladder to the pleasures of napping above.
Derrick said, “Okay boys, eighty-one percent of all cute pugs are trained to walk toward the door when they have to take a dump. Yes? Please tell me the stats are that high or higher.”
Pitter and Patter licked their lips.