Saturday, October 24, 2009

Begging Ivory by M. Christian

When she saw it, Paula knew she had to have it. At first she almost didn’t—see it or have it, that is. High on the shelves in the dusty, dim back of Ajae Imports, in a battered wooden box, it was easy to miss. It was only because Paula had already carted off a good percentage of Ajae’s stock of rattan, dark woods, masks, and woven baskets that she even noticed it. Her gaze had to climb higher and higher on the rickety steel shelves for something new, something she hadn’t seen a thousand times before, or owned one of.

It was so high that it was almost lost in the shadowy rafters over the loading dock, obscured by clouds of monoxide fumes from Ajae’s one barely running moving van.

Luckily, being a good customer brought perks—like being able to wander in the totally unsafe and precarious warehouse and being able to ask one of Ajae’s huge ebony employees to “please” bring it down so she might see it.

The box was old, the greens and grays of mildew and water damage decorating one side—the map of a mad continent. It was strapped with two tight bands of thick leather, which instantly reminded Paula of Henry’s belt and so brought a hard scowl to her face. “Stu”—his name, evidently, on his jumpsuit in greasy-encrusted letters—watched, stern and unmoving, as she tied to undo the straps. She didn’t really know why she had to get the damned box open, but suspected in a more logical part of her mind that it mostly had to do with the straps too-resembling Henry’s belt—it was as if he stood between her and what was inside. She couldn’t normally shove him aside and get what she wanted, but she could at least, now, then, get inside that damned box.

“Stu” watched as she tugged at the thick leather bands, his face carved from coal. Pausing to wipe her face, she smiled up at him. Released from his cool stance, he reached into a back pocket, brought out a utility knife and deftly slit the bands.

Taking a beat of her mysteriously hammering heart to smile up at him again, she started working at the inner box. First, ancient excelsior, feeling and smelling like dead worms, and then ... it.

Then, there—she saw it she knew she just had to have it.

Seeing her fondling it with her slightly quivering hands, “Stu” smiled, showing immaculate teeth, as polished and ivory as the object, and said, “Quite handsome, ma’am. Do ja want that to go—or are you goin’ ta eat it here?”

Bending the Rules by Jack Greene

“I’m not sure I’ve got it, can you show me once more?”

Zach sighed and just barely refrained from rolling his eyes. “Of course, Janine,” he said with patience. He picked up the weight again and lifted it slowly, then lowered it, knowing full well the woman wasn’t paying attention. Well, she was, but not to what she should have been paying attention to. She held a weight barely a quarter the size of his, but she wasn’t lifting it. Her eyes were glued to his bicep as it flexed.

It wasn’t that she was unattractive. She was in fairly good shape for her age, but she was definitely over forty and too close to his mother in age for Zach to be comfortable with the thought of flirting. But he was a personal trainer, and an expensive one at that, so upper middle class housewives comprised the majority of his clientele. It wasn’t too bad. They usually just gazed at him, and he made good money.

Working for the gym gave him free access to all the equipment when he wasn’t on the clock, and it was no problem to keep in shape. He enjoyed looking good, and there were usually some attractive women to admire. He wasn’t allowed to date clients, of course, and that was his last-ditch excuse when one came on too strong, but in truth what the management didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them.

Dating the staff was another matter entirely. Of course, it was officially forbidden as well, but unofficially it was a fucking soap opera. Everyone knew everyone else’s business, and Zach was pretty sure most of the employees had been intimate with at least one person on the staff, making for a nice inbred, bitchy little family. He tried to stay out of it as much as possible, but when you spent most of your day around scantily clad, buff, and beautiful people, hormones always rose high. Tempers, too.

He finished his session with Janine, then checked the schedule. He had an hour before his next client, and he wanted to get in some weights and a shower. The gym was fairly quiet this time of day, and he had the room practically to himself. He set up on one of his favorite machines, nearly maxing out the stack of weights. He wasn’t trying to show off; there was really no one to impress. He wasn’t overly narcissistic, but he liked the way his biceps looked: big. He needed to look good for his job, after all. Who would hire an out of shape personal trainer?

When he trained, he tended to focus internally, only peripherally aware of his surroundings. He thought of each repetition, concentrating on making each one count, extending and contracting each muscle for maximum effect. He wasn’t really aware of anyone in the room.

Until a glimpse of long, silky black hair and a sleek, slender body caught his eye. He returned to the world as his lower stomach flipped, and he had to look more closely at the person who’d snapped him out of his zone.

He noticed the dark haired beauty talking with Sierra, the new receptionist. Sierra was tiny and cute and usually just his type, but he was determined to be just friends even though she flirted with him constantly and had made it abundantly clear that she was into him. He liked talking to her, however, and watching her wiggle across the room in her shorts.

This time he barely noticed the receptionist’s shorts. Her companion was much more compelling.

The second thing he noticed was that the person with Sierra was no girl.

No one here knew that Zach wasn’t strictly straight. He didn’t advertise it, but though he was mostly into girls, occasionally a really gorgeous boy grabbed his attention. And this one was stunning.

Sierra was a slender girl, but this boy made her look positively dowdy in comparison. He didn’t look a day over twenty, and he was nearly as tall as Zach. Tight faded jeans clung to impossibly tiny hips; Zach wondered where he’d managed to find jeans that small. He didn’t look skinny, though; he had lean lines that Zach recognized as the result of yoga. His body was toned and delicious. Zach wanted to pin him to a wall and fuck his brains out.

He suddenly realized he had stopped his workout and was staring. A giggle snapped him out of it and he noticed that Sierra and her companion watched him. He started moving again, working his pecs thoroughly, and from the corner of his eye he saw them whispering. He focused on his workout, but couldn’t help but hope the gorgeous creature was a new client.

When he finished his set, they were gone, and Zach felt vaguely disappointed. He didn’t see the slender man again, and soon it was time to head for the showers.

The locker room was deserted. He undressed quickly and wrapped a towel around his waist. He grabbed his shampoo and body wash and headed for the communal shower. There were private showers, but those were reserved for the VIP clients.

But today it seemed was different. As he rounded the corner he could hear the water running. Someone was showering already. He didn’t really care; he wasn’t shy or embarrassed about his body. But he stopped still when he caught sight of who was in there.

Zach immediately recognized the dark-haired man he’d seen with Sierra. His long hair cascaded down his back, and water coursed over pale, perfect skin covering slim shoulders that narrowed to those tiny hips, and his ass. Zach’s mouth went dry as he tried to tear his gaze away from the most perfect, firm buttocks he’d ever seen. The man’s legs were miles long, and his back arched as he turned slightly, angling his face into the spray. Then he turned more, giving Zach a full frontal view, and Zach stepped back quickly lest he be caught perving.

He leaned back against the wall, breathing hard as if he’d run a marathon. If there had been a question that the man was indeed a man, Zach had just gotten his proof. He wouldn’t easily forget that lean, smooth chest, or perfect hipbones that led downward to the gorgeous cock nestled between his legs. A small tattoo above his left hip only enhanced the view, and Zach dearly wanted to lick it.

Just then, he heard the water turn off. Fuck. He managed to recover enough to pretend he was entering the shower area, just as the man rounded the corner covered by a towel from the waist down.

“Oh, hi!” the man said, smiling. His voice was high and breathy and Zach loved the sound of it. “You’re Zach. Sierra told me allll about you.” The young man’s eyes sparkled with amusement, and he watched as they flicked down his body. “I’m Kieran.” He held out his hand.

“Um. Hi.” Zach tried desperately to take in everything with little blood in his brain. He reached to shake Kieran’s hand, and with horror he felt his towel loosen. He grabbed at it with his free hand, just in time. He felt his cheeks flush. “Nice to meet you.”

Kieran looked like he was trying not to laugh. “I’m the new yoga instructor, it’s my first day,” he explained. “So I’m sure I’ll be seeing lots more of you.”

Was that a double meaning? Kieran had very nearly seen all of him just then, and he’d already seen all of Kieran. Every glorious inch, and he wanted to see it again. And touch. He cleared his throat and said, “That’s awesome. I hope you’ll like it here.”

“Oh, I’m sure,” Kieran said. “It seems like one big happy family.”

Zach barely repressed a snicker. One dysfunctional, inbred psychotic family, perhaps. Then Kieran’s earlier words sank in. “Wait, what did Sierra tell you?”

Kieran chuckled. He leaned forward and said, “Don’t worry, it was all good,” he said in a stage whisper, then he swept past. “Enjoy your shower,” he heard from around the corner.

It was a moment before Zach remembered what he was there to do, and he walked into the shower. He hung his towel on a hook and turned on a shower head. As the hot water sluiced over him, he tried to get the vision of Kieran’s naked body out of his head, but he feared he’d never forget it.

Cat's Eye by Will Belegon

Bonnie reached for the doorbell again, for the third time. Twice she had pulled her finger back, and twice she had started to turn and walk back to her car. The sounds of music and laughter came through the door and from the backyard, but she was alone on the front porch. She could walk away and no one would ever know.

The door opened and a blast of sound and light blew away any hope of escape. A booming laugh emerged from a shock of red hair and yellow-green eyes flashed behind a Mardi Gras mask.

“Well, hello, little kitty. Do I know you? Me-Wow!”

Bonnie felt flush. She knew the Catwoman outfit had been a bad idea. It showed way too much skin and did absolutely nothing to hide her ample curves, as evidenced by the man’s reaction. But that decision was in her past and it was too late to regret it now.

“Um, I was invited...by Todd? Todd Lundquist? Is this the right place?”

“Oh, hey! Are you Bonnie?”

She looked at him with suspicion. What about her appearance was so unusual that he would know her name? She glanced back at the long driveway leading up to the big house. Judging by the cars, there were plenty of people here. Too many for her to stand out that much, especially to someone she had never met.

“Yes. How do you know my name?”

“Sweetheart, I know everybody’s name. Well, everybody here anyway. Soon you will, too. Besides, we’ve been waiting for you. Longer than we thought we would need wait. I’m sorry, I’m forgetting my manners. My name is Marcus and I have the honor to be your host. Please come inside.” Marcus stepped to the side and bowed, his hand sweeping across his knees as his red hair cascaded across his face. He laughed again as he rose, brushing it behind him.

Bonnie stepped inside. A half-dozen people were scattered around the living room, drinks in hand. The music pulsated from the back of the house. She didn’t see Todd anywhere.

“Follow me, fair lady, and we will attempt to locate the scoundrel who invited you. But I suspect it will not be hard. And if you lose me in the press of admirers, just look for the tail. Easy to spot anywhere.” Marcus grinned and spun around.

He was kidding about the crowd, although the scattered individuals they passed on the way to the backyard did seem to admire her. They all nodded to her and smiled, a curiosity in their eyes that felt out of place. Sure, people tended to know each other, but certainly she couldn’t be the only new person here? But no one seemed hostile, even the women... and considering the way some of the men were looking at her, that didn’t make sense at all.

He was not kidding about the tail. A dusky red and white, the bushy accessory emerged from a split seam in the back of his jeans. It bounced with a liveliness that made Bonnie slightly jealous when she looked back at the limp stuffed one curling behind her. She wrote a mental note to corner Marcus before the end of the evening and force the website or costume store name out of him.

They slipped between a pair of men who looked to be identical twins in matching eagle costumes and emerged into the backyard. An open space that could hold the house they had just walked through twice with room to spare, bordered by trees. Paper lanterns were strung on both sides near the house, with the back edge fading into darkness. Here the guests were more plentiful and seemed to account for the variety of cars on the drive.

She spotted him instantly. Todd was near the barbeque pit, sipping on a beer and talking to a beautiful blonde woman who was at least four inches taller than him. Bonnie’s heart sank. It had been too much to hope for, after all this time, that he would invite her as a date. The ease and familiarity between the couple was obvious. Still, she straightened her spine, determined not to let him see her disappointment.

As they strode toward him, Todd’s head came up and he closed his eyes while looking at the sky. Bonnie was reminded of the surreal moment in the fight, five Halloweens past. As she had imagined the change in his eyes then, she could have sworn she saw his nostrils flare just before his eyes snapped open and he turned to face her, a smile on his face.

Marcus snickered beside her. “Can’t fool that nose.”

As she turned to ask him what he meant, she was swept off her feet. Todd twirled her in a circle, laughter emerging from deep in his chest.

“Finally! I’ve been waiting for so long. I’m sorry it took me so long to contact you, but it just seemed right to wait for our next gathering. I’m sure you have questions…”

She looked down at him, bemused. There was no doubting the joy in his face, but as she watched it was touched with confusion. Again the nostrils flared.

Todd set her down as a small crowd gathered. The party guests crowded around, a look of anticipation on their faces. The blonde, who Bonnie now noticed was dressed as a lioness, set a paw on his shoulder.

“She’s not awake.”

“I can tell that, Larissa.” Todd gazed into her face, the confusion growing. “What I don’t understand is why. I expected her memories to be…well, sketchy. Things take time. But she is completely unaware.”

Murmurs of assent arose from everyone surrounding them. The anticipatory mood was beginning to be replaced with one of concern.

Marcus spoke. “I think this is between you and Bonnie, Todd. The connection between the two of you has always been strong.”

“I agree,” added Larissa, if that was the blonde’s name. “The poor child must be horribly confused. Take it easy, Todd. Don’t let your loneliness push you to an unwise choice.” She punctuated her words by pulling his head around and looking firmly into his eyes. “Understand?”

“I can handle it. Trust me.” There was no room for argument in his statement.