Monday, April 19, 2010

Foreign Relations/Perfect Stranger (Binary Stars Vol 2) by Jack Greene

What idiot goes to the mall on a weekend to compete with half the city for a parking place, only to join the throng inside the over-air-conditioned stores, shuffling along and looking for bargains?

Me, apparently.

I didn’t think it would be this bad, honestly. I work all week, and the last thing I want to do afterward is deal with the mall. But, I needed some new dress pants. I’ll go on the weekend, I thought.

Bad idea. Everyone and their minivans were apparently there, and there wasn’t a parking space to be had. I wasn’t even trawling for a prime spot, either. I went to one of the farther lots; I don’t mind walking a ways. Still, it was packed.

I was about to give it up and go home to try to patch my old pants when I saw it. A Toyota, backup lights blazing, lurched into reverse right in front of me with nobody else nearby. Mine! I switched on my turn signal and waited patiently.

Unfortunately, the driver seemed incapable of backing out of the parking place without executing a five-point turn, and I sighed as I watched a gigantic SUV speed toward us from the other direction. Good thing I’d gotten there first.

The Toyota finally cleared the car next to it, and trundled off on its merry way. I could see screaming children in the back, and shuddered. As soon as the car passed, I moved forward, turning into the parking place.

Just as the SUV began to do the same.

I stared in disbelief. Surely he’d seen my turn signal. What the hell? I’d been there first, by a long shot. I continued my turn into the spot, but so did he. Only by virtue of my Civic’s smaller turning circle did I make it past him into the spot. I couldn’t believe the gall of the SUV’s driver.

I turned off my car and glanced in the rearview mirror, expecting to be flipped off as the disgruntled driver continued on his search.

But the SUV hadn’t moved. In fact, the door flew open as I watched a mountain of a man lumber out. Shit. I froze in my seat. What to do? I had to get out sometime, and this was 2009. Surely I wasn’t about to get beat up in broad daylight in the middle of a suburban LA mall parking lot, was I?

I had a bad feeling about it.

I couldn’t sit there all day. I opened my door and got out. And looked up.

The guy was big. I’m just under six feet, so he had to be well over it. I may be tall but I’m skinny—I’ve been called waif-like as a compliment, and scrawny as an insult. Basically, this guy stood twice my size. Maybe it was my nerves talking, but at that moment he resembled a fucking WWE wrestler. Not that I watch a lot of wrestling, but this guy probably did. He looked like a crew-cut, Budweiser drinking, NRA-supporting breeder.

I’m a skinny little gay boy with shoulder length hair and eyeliner.

I knew I was screwed.

I took a deep breath to speak when he bellowed, “What the fuck you doing, boy?”

“I was here first,” I tried to explain calmly. “I had my turn signal on.”

Bubba was not impressed. “Bullshit. I saw that place from way back. It’s mine.” I saw his lip curl in a sneer as he looked me over.

I crossed my arms, perhaps to hide the fact that I was shaking. “I’d been waiting a while. It’s mine.”

He laughed harshly. “Well, let’s pretend this never happened, okay? Just back your little rice burner out of the way and run along.”

Oh, hell no. “I don’t think so. I was here first. Find your own spot.” I made to walk past him. Leaving my car where he could damage it probably wasn’t a good idea, but the car could take more than me. No doubt he could snap me in half with one hand, but I wasn’t caving.

“Fucking faggot,” the man snarled, proving he was at least observant, and suddenly he crushed my arm in its fashionable black leather jacket in a vice grip. “I said move your fucking car.”

I gasped as he slammed me back against my car. This guy had seen one too many Schwarzenegger movies. I couldn’t believe this was happening over a parking spot. “No,” I said, proving I wasn’t as smart as I pretended to be. I don’t know what I was thinking.

He loomed over me and I got a good whiff of cheap cologne mixed with cigarette smoke. Lovely. He grabbed me by the collar, apparently just so he could slam me back against the car again. That time the door handle caught me in the small of the back. That fucking hurt. I tried to push him away, like trying to move a fat-covered boulder.

I was about to get beaten up by Jabba the Hut.

I kicked at him, but only managed to deliver a glancing blow to his shin.

“I’ll teach you to fuck with me,” snarled Jabba, drawing back his fist. I tried to pull back but he had me trapped. I struggled, and I managed to slip sideways. His fist bounced off the window of my car. That had to hurt. Jabba howled in pain, and while he was distracted I threw my own punch. Direct hit to the doughy stomach!

Unfortunately, it seemed to have little effect other than to piss him off. “Oh, now you’re fucked, queer boy,” he growled, and lunged for me. My life flashed before my eyes.

But, the expected blow never came. Jabba jerked back, and looked around in surprise. “What the fuck?”

“At the risk of being clich├ęd, pick on someone your own size,” snapped a voice. “Of course, that may not be possible…”

With a bellow, Jabba rushed the man who’d come to my rescue. The man just danced out of the way, grabbing my attacker and slamming him into the car next to me, a very solid Lincoln Navigator. Jabba staggered and rushed the man again. This time the man met him head-on with a fist. Jabba went down.

“Holy shit,” I murmured, staring at Jabba on the ground for a moment.

“You okay?”

I looked up into the prettiest blue eyes I’d ever seen.

I swallowed. “Yeah, I… oh my God, if you hadn’t shown up…” The man stood a few inches taller than me, and his eyes weren’t the only amazing thing about him. His light brown hair was a few inches long, spiked stylishly, and he had cheekbones that could cut glass. His nose was perfection, and his lips belonged on an angel. He had the body of an athlete, showcased in clothes just snug enough. I stifled a whimper, but just barely. “Thank you.”

My savior shook his head and smiled charmingly. “Don’t thank me. What did you do to piss him off so much?” Peripherally I noticed Jabba crawling off to his SUV. He peeled out of the parking lot.

“Um. Took his parking place.” I couldn’t look away from those eyes.

“Apparently a mortal sin,” the man said, eyebrows raised.

“I guess so. Then he took offense at my general, well…” I spread my arms and looked down at myself. “Queerness.” Undoubtedly the man would run away now.

Now his perfect mouth curved into a grin. “He’s an idiot.” The man stepped back, and only then did I realize how close he’d been. It hadn’t felt weird at all. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

I nodded, biting at my lip. I wanted to pretend I wasn’t okay, just so the pretty angel would stay with me, or ask if they had cell phone numbers in Heaven. But, I was shaken and unsure and I just stammered, “Thanks again.”

The man bowed just a little—unutterably charming. “Be careful,” he said softly, then walked away. I watched him go until he was out of sight, sighing. He was probably straight. Married even.

After a moment of self-pity I gathered my wits and my keys, and headed into the mall.

All Man by G.A. Hauser

Chapter 1

“Go deep! Deeper!”

Hearing the shouting, Chase Arlington paused to watch as a football flew through the crystal clear fall morning air, to fall into the arms of a running man. In seconds the poor guy got smashed from behind and leveled into the dewy grass of Schoolhouse Park’s football field.

He felt a tug on his arm. Peering down the leash, Chase said, “Yes? You have somewhere to go?”

His shepherd mix looked up at him, a pink tongue hanging out of his mouth while he panted.

“Hang on, Mutley. One more play.”

The dog made a sound of impatience and tugged again.

Nine men, some approaching middle age, four on one side, five on the other, were covered in grass stains and mud, appearing to be having the time of their lives as they played football like college kids.

A pass from one tall handsome man connected to another. A cheer went up as they celebrated a touchdown.

Though he did not know them, Chase shared their elation for the accomplishment.

“Okay. You’re obviously ready. Let’s go.” Chase resumed his jogging, Mutley keeping pace by his side.

The park was enormous, thirty-five acres of soccer field, baseball diamond, picnic grounds, and grass. Chase was glad he stumbled upon it. He was new to the area and still getting a feel for the neighborhood.

Kettering, Centerville, Washington Township, this was Middle America, Ohio, corn country, the land of the chain restaurant and SUV. A far cry from his urban lifestyle in trendy Manhattan.

But his private practice had dried up. HMO’s began making his work as a physical therapist one of misery as his fees became tied up in paperwork.

A friend e-mailed him the job listing for Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Working for the air force had its perks. There was job security and he liked the idea of helping out the military. Liked it a lot.

Sweat pouring from his neck and face, Chase slowed down as he approached his silver Hyundai Tiburon GS. “Hang on, Mutt.” He panted as badly as his dog to catch his breath from the last sprint.

Chase opened the trunk and set out a bowl for his pet, filling it with water. Once Mutley was lapping at it, Chase drank the rest of the bottled water himself.

Chase used his t-shirt to wipe at his perspiration. Mutley was recuperating as well, sitting, his tongue running with water.

He was attempting to duplicate their same routine from the Big Apple. Every morning Chase took Mutley out running in Central Park. The only addition here in Ohio was the use of car on weekends. They ran a route right from the front door of Chase’s home on weekdays. Mutley already seemed to know the program but they were both adjusting to being on their own in a strange place.

Finally feeling less sweaty from the cool breeze that quivered the leaves of the changing trees, Chase made a move to enter the car. Mutley stood, staring at him.

Chase smiled at his sweet expression. “Come here.” He patted his chest. Instantly Mutley stood on his hind legs and pressed his big paws into him.

Chase gave him a good ear scratching. “We’ll get used to it, buddy. Hang in there.” He avoided a lick to his face and nudged the dog back down. The car door tugged open, Chase adjusted the towels he used to cover the bucket seats and had Mutley jump into the passenger’s side. The obedient pooch sat comfortably, waiting, licking at the window glass.

After he started the engine, Chase lowered the windows for Mutley to stick his head out and feel the wind as they drove.

* * * *

Once he was home and showered, he ate his breakfast and gave Mutley a slab of rawhide to gnaw on.

Sipping his coffee while reading the Dayton Daily News, Chase couldn’t help but smile at the ‘down home’ coverage of the media, which included corn festivals and a spate of local burglaries.

Unfortunately nothing compared to the New York Times and its international flair. Chase simply didn’t know if he could be happy here. Here. In corn country.

Mutley adjusted his paws on the strip of rawhide, making short work of it in his long canines. “You have a backyard, right?” Chase asked him. “You didn’t have a backyard before.”

Mutley moved his big brown eyes to meet his but didn’t stop his chewing.

“A yard is a good thing. No more being cooped up inside all day while I’m at work.”

Mutley let out a snort in disinterest, getting a better grip on his snack. It was down to a pasty hunk of goo in seconds, which Mutley began to stuff in his mouth to swallow whole.

Chase turned back to the newsprint under his elbows, as he recalled the men playing football. He’d love to get in on that game for so many reasons. He loved sports, and thought the men were exceptional.

“Are there gay men in Dayton? Aren’t we all over the place?” He laughed, finishing is coffee. Of course we are. Just gotta sniff us out.

“Right, Mutley?”

The snack consumed, Mutley licked his lips neatly and gave Chase his undivided attention.

“Any suggestions as to what we should do today?”

The dog tilted his head curiously.

“We’ve got a yard, may as well use it.” Chase rose up, set his mug in the sink and left through the back door, Mutley in pursuit. Finding his chewed up Frisbee, Chase tossed it to him, wishing he had already established a network of friends. It sucked living here, but he didn’t want to have to change careers in order to move back to New York. He had to give this a try.