The Wheat Paste Heart by Tray Ellis

January 6, 2015

“You know this is illegal, right?”

Saxon only paused for a moment to shrug his shoulders and then he continued to apply the homemade wheat paste to the wall with the small paint roller.  Tonight he was installing a series of small posters, ranging from the size of his hand to that of the front of a folded out newspaper.  He’d been working on this project for weeks.  If he had to get caught, he’d have wanted it to be after the display was up and set, but he’d have preferred not to found out at all. He was caught, but he wasn’t stopped. Not yet.  So he kept working.

With the concrete retaining wall covered in sticky, wet paste Saxon put the roller away into a plastic bag and retrieved the folder containing his artwork. He flipped it open to reveal the overall schematic. He’d been doing guerrilla art for nearly a year and a lot of it had been trial and error, but now he had some knowledge and tonight’s project was the culmination of a lot of effort.  The location was risky, but it had been too important not to attempt.  It made all the difference and he wasn’t going to back away.

“If you get caught, you’re going to be in a lot of trouble.”

That made Saxon turn to address his unexpected visitor. “If?” he asked. It seemed the most important aspect of the previous statement.

James scuffed his foot on the ground and it was difficult to read his expression in the nighttime darkness. “I’m not a snitch,” he said.

Saxon thought about that for a moment.  “Thanks,” he finally said.  He looked around him, considering.  It was the middle of the night and he was in a generally non-visible section of a pathway near his high school.  A concrete retaining wall had been built into the ground with a direct sightline from the path, which kids used constantly during the day.  If James was traveling here at this time of night, then he’d been sneaking out as well.  Probably it was more trouble to mention this fact than it’d be worth to confront James with it, and besides, it seemed he wasn’t going to reveal Saxon’s complicity.    ”I only need fifteen more minutes and this’ll be done,” Saxon added and then he returned to his task.

James moved closer, hovering, and glancing at Saxon’s materials.  “What are you doing? Can I help?”

“Sure.”  Saxon handed over the schematic.  “I’m putting these up.  Make sure I have it all in the right place.  Each piece will be part of the whole picture.”

James squinted at the schematic.  The moon was almost full in the clear night sky, shedding a lot of light, but it would still be hard to read. Saxon had waited for the perfect night.  He’d needed enough natural moonlight to work without a flashlight and good weather.  It had rained heavily for the past week and tonight had seemed optimum.

Saxon didn’t need to review the drawing.  He already knew by heart where everything went.

The overall design incorporated more than two dozen drawings of hot air balloons.  Each balloon was heart-shaped with a unique pattern. Each basket below held a single individual.  They were all arranged to seem to float magnificently and peacefully in the sky.  Below them were a handful of terrible, savage creatures with mean eyes and frightful postures, holding different types weapons. Saxon had adorned each with a capital B on their chest, painted bright scarlet, and he had to thank Mr. Beezy someday for the extra reading assignments or else he wouldn’t have known to make that connection.  One of the tormentors had hit his mark.  There was a ragged hole in a beautiful balloon and it was losing altitude, about to crash to the earth.  The individual in the basket was certainly doomed.

Saxon placed the very last piece of paper onto the pasted wall, smoothing it in place so that it adhered strongly:  STOP BULLYING.

He stepped back to look over the entire scene.  The whole installation was over fifteen feet wide and six feet high. The adrenaline he’d felt rushing through him the whole night ebbed away.  He felt calm and serene, his heart as full and light as the hot-air balloons.  Tomorrow, everyone would see it.

“Wow,” James said.

“It has to stop.”  Saxon was tired.  Tired of hiding who he was and tired of waiting, always waiting for some distant day in the future when it would get better. He was tired of being afraid, tired of letting slip that he had different ideas about boys and girls than most of his schoolmates. He looked over at James. “You won’t tell?”

He didn’t know James well. They had different classes and different interests.  James was athletic, but wasn’t a star performer.  He was smart, but not top of the class.  He blended in and never made waves.  Suddenly, he realized that James might be more like him than not.  People who were different sometimes spent their whole lives hiding in plain sight.

“I won’t tell,” James promised, with the solemn childhood gesture of crossing a finger over his heart. He held out a hand.

Saxon looked at it for a moment, surprised.  Then he reached out and shook.  It felt odd and very grown-up.

“If you do something like this again, call me.  I’ll help.”

“Okay,” Saxon said. Then James helped him stuff the last of his materials into his backpack and, convinced he hadn’t left any telltale evidence behind, they exchanged a last serious look, and each went their own way into the dark.

______________________________

Tray Ellis grew up with two brothers and many cats and dogs. Her family loves to cook, eat, sit around talking, and quote old movies at each other. The more laughter the better, and her family loves to laugh. Tray has a completely romantic view of autumn, and thinks it is the perfect season and an excellent source of writing inspiration. When she isn’t writing, she keeps busy by jogging, fishing, cooking, baking, and keeping her home in some semblance of order. (Perhaps she has completely exaggerated that her home is in any kind of order whatsoever.) She can be found at her website and Facebook.

Home by Chris Scully

January 5, 2015

Title: Home

Author: Chris Scully

Pairing: Emmett and Sky (from Rebound)

Prompt: Chopsticks

 

“Like this?” Sky asked, brow creased in concentration. His tousled, surfer-blond hair fell into his eyes and he tried, unsuccessfully, to blow it out of the way without disturbing his efforts.  Emmett’s chest swelled with a familiar warmth as he gazed at the younger man. Sky really was so adorable when he was focused on something.

“Not quite.” Emmett covered Sky’s hand with his own and positioned his fingers so they were just right. “There. Like that.”

“You make it seem so easy.”

“Had a lot of practice.”

Sky’s lips twitched. His indigo eyes bore into Emmett’s. “I still don’t think I’m doing this right.”

“You’re doing fine. Just take your time. Go slow.”

“It’s not going to work,” he insisted.

“Don’t give up now,” Emmett encouraged, his gaze falling to Sky’s parted lips. “Yeah, that’s it. You’ve got it….”

Just as Sky got the pork bite within reach of his mouth, chopsticks trembling unsteadily in his fingers, he lost control, and the morsel tumbled down his bare chest, leaving a river of red sauce in its wake. It came to a halt in the indent of his belly button, just above the elastic band of his briefs.

“Told you.” Sky plucked the piece of pork off his flat stomach and popped it into his mouth with a grin. Before he could wipe at the sticky sauce with a napkin, Emmett leaned forward and slowly, painstakingly, licked Sky’s chest clean.

When he sat back on the couch several heated minutes later, he noted with a touch of pride that the pouch of Sky’s briefs was fuller than before, even though they had only left the bed an hour ago. Ah, he mused, feeling a stirring in his own boxers, the benefits of having a much young lover. He smacked his lips. “Yum. Sweet and sour. My favorite.”

Sky’s grin lit up that empty place in Emmett’s chest. To be honest, it wasn’t so empty these days. In fact, right now Emmett felt as though he must be oozing contentment; lounging on his couch barely dressed, eating Chinese take-out from the carton and enjoying their last night together before Sky drove back to Iowa in the morning. He tried not to dwell on that—he hated the goodbyes.

Six floors below, a siren wailed, followed by the inevitable horns of irate drivers. In the apartment next door, the couple who lived there began one of their nightly arguments. Emmett dared a glance at Sky, but the younger man was too busy trying to chase down a piece of pineapple to be annoyed by the sounds of the city.

Emmett sighed. He’d always been an urbanite. Once, he’d loved the excitement, the fast pace. But now…. Now he knew just how lonely you could be in a city of three million people.

He was never awakened by horns and sirens at Sky’s farmhouse. The nearest neighbor was a five-minute drive away. There, he fell asleep to the sound of crickets, and awoke to the song of birds. Or sometimes Molly’s paws on his chest as she tried to smother him in his sleep.

The wave of homesickness caught him off guard. Homesickness. This gloomy apartment, with its noisy neighbors and clanging pipes was home, he had to remind himself, not Sky’s cozy house in the middle of nowhere. No matter how much he missed seeing the stars at night, or reading the newspaper in Sky’s sun-filled kitchen, or lounging in the claw foot bathtub built for two. No matter how much it felt like he belonged there. It was too soon to think that way. Right? They hadn’t even been dating a year yet.

But this long-distance thing was killing him.

At first he’d tried to keep his visits to once a month. Play it cool. But by spring he was spending every weekend at Sky’s house, and by summer he was arranging his schedule so that he didn’t have appointments on Fridays or Mondays for an extra-long weekend. Slowly his belongings made their way down the I-88. First a toothbrush and razor. Then some extra clothing—just in case. Now he couldn’t sleep well unless he was tucked into Sky’s comfy brass bed, with Sky spooned behind him, and yes, Molly the demon dog standing guard at the foot of the bed.

Occasionally Sky would make the trek to Chicago, but it was harder for him—he had to board Molly with friends and finding parking for his monster pick-up truck was always a challenge. Sky never once complained, but Emmett always felt guilty afterward, and a little ashamed to have Sky see how he lived. This place was supposed to be temporary after his breakup with Andy, but one year had somehow turned into two. It still looked temporary though. His apartment was an empty shell compared to Sky’s warm and loving home. He didn’t even have a house plant.

But it had been Sky’s birthday last week, and Emmett had taken him to the theatre last night to celebrate. They’d had a great time. Until they ran into his lying, cheating ex.

“Something’s bugging you,” Sky observed, drawing Emmett out of his thoughts. “You’ve been kinda quiet since last night. Did I do something to embarrass you in front of your ex?”

“God, no,” Emmett burst. Seeing Andy  had definitely made him stop and think, but not in a bad way. In fact, the only effect Andy, or the plastic Ken doll he’d been with, had had on Emmett was to make him realize how much he wanted to be with Sky. Full-time, not just on weekends.

“He’s pretty… sophisticated,” Sky continued. “I must be boring compared to him. And simple.”

Emmett blinked. Was Sky feeling insecure? What an awful thought. Sky was the most confident person he’d ever met. “You are ten times the man he ever was,” he said with vehemence. “Trust me.”

Sky nodded, but didn’t look up from his container of noodles, as if he hadn’t quite believed Emmett’s words.

“I like simple,” Emmett insisted, suddenly choked up. “A lot.” He took a shaky breath and set his carton of beef with broccoli on the coffee table. It was now or never. “In fact… the lease on my office space expires in two months. I’m debating not renewing it.”

“Oh?” Sky looked up then, his expression concerned. “Do you need money? Is that it? Because I can—”

“No. I’m fine.” Crap, this was hard. “I was thinking… um… about relocating. People in Iowa need wills too, right?” That was one of the perks of estate law. There was a market no matter where you went.

“I expect so,” Sky muttered as he absently rooted around in his cardboard container with his chopsticks.

Emmett waited, but Sky didn’t seem to catch his meaning. Was he going to have to spell it out?

“Yes,” Sky said suddenly.

“Yes?”

“Yes, you can live with me.”

Emmett gaped in surprise. Now that he looked, he recognized the twinkle in Sky’s eyes and knew that he’d been toying with him this whole time. The presumption of the man. “What makes you think—?”

“It’s about time, too. No offence, but it doesn’t even look like you live here. I think we can fit it all in my truck.”

Emmett searched for signs of hesitation or uncertainty on Sky’s face, but there were none. Just that contagious grin and those irresistible dimples. He was as excited as a kid at Christmas. “It’s a big step,” Emmett cautioned, but inside he had no doubts. Well, hardly any.

One of Sky’s blond brows lifted. “Is it?”

“For me it is.” For a brief moment Emmett panicked. What if things didn’t work out? He’d be left with nothing again. But Sky was nothing like Andy.

Sky stared at his take-out container for a few minutes. Then he smiled and raised his head. “We’re like chopsticks, Emmett.”

“Oh, I can’t wait to hear this one,” he returned drily, but the truth was he’d come to appreciate Sky’s folksy wisdom. He always made a strange sort of sense.

“Alone, we’re useless.” Sky demonstrated by trying in vain to spear a piece of pork with one chopstick. “But together….”

“We’re a clumsy Asian utensil?”

Sky clucked his tongue indulgently. “You’re my other chopstick, Emmett. I don’t work without you.”

Goddamn. Sky was always doing that. Dropping these unexpected emotional bombs on him and making his heart leap into his throat. The sting of tears threatened. He blinked them away. “I, uh, don’t think that has quite the impact you were going for, given how chopstick challenged you are.”

Eyes dancing, Sky deftly pinched his chopsticks together and hefted a clump of noodles to his mouth. Without spilling a single one.

“You… you faker,” Emmett accused.

“I was just letting you show off. I’m not a complete hick, you know.”

Emmett struggled to find the words he wanted to say. Sky had changed his life; taught him how to believe again, love again. He leaned in close. “I don’t care if you are. You’re my hick.”

And I’m not ever letting you go.

 

Did you enjoy Chris Scully’s story? If so, check out the rest of her books and take 25% off at checkout with the code ChrisScullyFlash. Coupon code is good for one order per customer through February 5, 2015.

Comfort Zone by Kate Pavelle

January 4, 2015

Title: Comfort Zone

Author: Kate Pavelle

Pairing: Atilla and Kai from Wild Horses

Prompt: magic

 

The filtered and heated air of the theater box was at odds with the gilded carvings and the plush red seat under his butt. Kai stirred. The ballet was in progress. He knew the story – had read up on it just for this occasion, in fact – but he still couldn’t shake off the feeling of being an imposter in such a fancy environment.

Attila was still and composed right next to him, wearing the tuxedo Kai had seen him wear the first time they met. Less than a year ago, but those few months had been packed with events to fill a lifetime.

The theater box seats were more expensive than the ones in the rows of the theater, but Attila didn’t do crowds well and Kai knew that even being here might stress him out past the point of mere discomfort.

Why the hell did he give me theater tickets?

The Christmas gift was a surprise. Kai figured he’d get gloves (work or riding), socks (warm, to fill his muck boots), or some other practical item he needed and they could easily afford. Yet Attila had been appalled at the very thought of such pedestrian gifts.

“We can buy gloves and socks any day,” he said. “But nobody has ever bothered to take you to the theater. I find that inexcusable.”

That’s how they ended up sitting in a plush, private box, watching the Sugar Plum Fairy weave her incredible magic on stage, doing what no real person should be able to do with her body. On her toes, no less.

“She’d make an incredible rider,” Kai whispered as he leaned toward Attila.

“Yes.” He heard the smile in Attila’s voice. Both of them remained focused on the Sugar Plum Fairy and her pirouettes and leaps. “They all would.”

“She’s flexible,” Kai whispered. He recognized the wistful edge in his own voice. Horseback riding left his legs tighter than ever before, and barn chores left him too tired to even think about stretching out the way he and Attila used to do during the summer in the pool.

“Yes.”

Colors and music swirled by in a timeless eddy of joy. A red curtain descended over the stage, and the crystal chandelier began to glow, illuminating the elaborate decorations on the domed ceiling of the Benedum Center.

“It’s over?” Kai felt a sharp pang of disappointment. There had been an ephemeral beauty to it, the strains of music and the flow of color and the incredible exertions of the athletes on the stage.

“An intermission,” Attila said in a normal voice. The air began to hum with hushed conversations from the pit below.

Kai leaned over the railing to observe them. “Where are they going?”

“The toilets. There’s a bar with drinks, and there are things to buy. Go, check it out!” Attila flashed him an apologetic look. “I’d rather stay here. The crowds….”

“I know, babe. The crowds.” Kai stood, ready to venture forth on an exploratory mission. “You want anything?”

Attila shrugged. “Maybe something to drink. But if you go to the bathroom, look at the walls of the stalls. They are stone and have fossilized sea creatures embedded in them.” He leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. Even though he looked composed to the world, Kai figured Attila was going through one of his meditation exercises.

Kai slipped through the small door into the theater hallway. The sound of the crowds milling about assaulted him, and now he knew why Attila got them a private booth. Compared to a horse show, the crowd was unruly and chaotic.

Once he oriented himself, he slipped into the bathroom and checked out the fossils. On the way out, he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror. He paused and turned.

Black tuxedo, white shirt, black bowtie. Red hair plaited into a lush french braid, winter-pale face and extant freckles.

He wondered if that’s what Attila saw when he looked at him. He wondered whatever possessed people to offer him modeling opportunities two months ago. Tibor’s borrowed tuxedo made him look as though he’d been playing Halloween dress-up, but he consented to wearing it for Attila’s sake.

The wooden bathroom door swung open, and Kai turned away from the mirror and its brass scones.

Attila… drink… downstairs.

Kai’s eyes feasted on the statues, mirrors, and lush architectural details he passed on the way down the curved staircase. Two pillars reminded him of soft-serve vanilla ice cream. He plunged into the crowd in the mezzanine, swimming through it toward a small bar at the end. Dressed-up men, women reeking of perfume, and little girls in fancy dresses were just obstacles to navigate. He figured he had just two minutes, maybe three, before the show started again.

He paid for two glasses of champagne with a shot of something red and sweet in it—a lady before him had ordered it, and he figured Attila might like it.

A chime rang and the lights flickered. As though banished by a magic wand, the crowd behind him dissipated and Kai was able to stride across the floor and take the stairs by two, careful not to spill their drinks.

“You still have time, sir. This was just the warning bell.” Kai looked at the older man in an usher’s uniform, nodded, and smiled. He found their booth and slipped in.

Attila was reading something in the glossy program brochure.

“Here, babe.”

Attila met his eyes and smiled. They clinked their glasses as Kai took his seat.

“You got me kir.” Attila sipped with genuine pleasure. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Kai said. He tried to sound nonchalant, but he couldn’t contain himself and leaned over as the lights dimmed and the stage curtain went up. The music began and the stage filled with dancers once more. “Somebody called me ‘sir’ on the way up,” Kai whispered. He paused, stirring in his borrowed tuxedo.

Attila leaned into him, affectionate and close. “Honey, that’s because you are. Get used to it.”

 

Did you enjoy Kate Pavelle’s story? If so, check out the rest of her books and take 25% off at checkout with the code KatePavelleFlash. Coupon code is good for one order per customer through February 4, 2015.

Pup by M. Raiya

January 3, 2015

Title: Pup

Author: M. Raiya

Pairing: James and Ambient (from Another Healing)

Prompt: Shining

 

James leaned forward and patted the sweaty neck before him. Orange was his favorite horse: a big, strong, even-tempered chestnut. A bit like himself, he admitted. Ambient always chose to exercise a feisty little mare named Alexie, which made James nervous, since his most important job in life was to protect Ambient at all times. At the moment, he didn’t know where Ambient and Alexie were. Ambient was the most disaster-prone person he’d ever met.

James twisted in his saddle and looked back at the trail. They were supposed to meet in this little clearing. Ambient had taken Alexie down to the river to let her run on a long stretch of dirt road with little traffic. James and Orange had climbed the hill, giving the gelding’s muscles a good workout. One of the best parts of living on a farm in their RV was getting to ride horses all they wanted. Doing so was not only fun, it helped out Jules, the owner. It was the least they could do in return for the way Jules was training them to master the intricacies of witch/demon relationships.

With a sigh, James loosened the reins, kicked his feet out of his stirrups, and stretched. He still wasn’t used to the idea of being a demon, or completely at ease with the fact that his partner was a witch. It hadn’t been a year yet since they had discovered what they were, and they had almost gotten killed in the process. But Jules was the best imaginable teacher, and they were making rapid progress working together.

Taking advantage of the loosened reins, Orange lowered his head. He snorted at the ground and then snagged the tops of some grass stems with his lips.

“No eating with your bit in.” James gathered up the reins again. Orange shook his head in protest and mouthed the grass. “Idiot horse,” James added fondly. “Where is your lady friend, do you know? Ambient wants me to go dancing with him tonight. I want time for a shower first so I don’t smell like you.”

Orange swished his tail at flies, ears flopping loose and relaxed.

“Lazy lump.”

The late afternoon sun beat down, hot. James wasn’t overly worried; he’d know if anything was wrong through the mental link he and Ambient shared. But he really should keep Orange in motion until the horse was well cooled down from their climb. Orange would be sound asleep in another few minutes. James found his stirrups and softly clicked his tongue, getting Orange’s attention. “Off we go,” he said. He turned Orange’s head and nudged him with his heels, heading down the trail toward the river at a walk. Orange grumpily tossed his head a few times, but didn’t protest too much, though he would clearly rather be going back to the shady barn.

Aside from Orange’s soft hoofbeats and the high-pitched drone of insects, all was quiet. The river, swollen by a thunderstorm the day before, made a low, rushing sound ahead of them. The air smelled of the sun-warmed grass bending over the trail. Orange had just made another swipe for a mouthful when the incongruous squealing of car tires rent the afternoon.

James dug his heels into Orange’s sides as a burst of panic from Ambient slammed into him. There was no following burst of assurance that Ambient was all right, either. Instead, there was a surge of absolute fury. No pain, though. James could tell that much as he sent Orange into a headlong gallop down the trail. The horse became electrified by James’s sudden emotional swing. James didn’t even bother trying to send to Ambient. Nothing would get through the anger suffusing his partner. But as long as Ambient was angry and not in pain, he was okay.

Never, James vowed, would he let his partner out of his sight again. Never!

James and Orange raced around a curve in the path, and a view of the river spread below them. It came down from the hills and rushed high and fast around large, round boulders. Right before them was a bend that formed what was usually a deep, quiet pool. Ambient had been swimming there all summer. It always looked deep and dangerous to James, who was afraid of all water, anytime. Today, it was an evil green bowl of churning death.

The first thing James saw was Ambient leaping into it. Alexie, stamping in agitation, was alone on the bank with her ears pinned back and her eyes on Ambient. For an instant, James thought Ambient had been thrown and landed in the river. But no, Ambient was definitely swimming, fully clothed, away from shore. James looked down the road and saw a dark-colored van disappearing around the bend.

James wanted a talk with whoever was in it. As he pulled Orange up beside Alexie, he sent a flash of power after the van. He wasted no energy on finesse. He just sent a pulse strong enough to overheat the engine. A couple seconds later, he felt the van halt with a hiss of steam. He’d deal with the occupants later. Ambient was far more important. Already, Ambient was in the middle of the damn pool and swimming downstream as fast as he could, heading right toward a boulder field of frothing white water.

James kept his eyes locked on Ambient’s red shirt, which was hard to do with both horses jumpy with fear. Alexie was pulling at a branch which her reins were looped around.

His training kicked in. Before a working, gain control of your own surroundings. He sent some soothing power to both horses. They quieted instantly. Then James urged Orange into a canter along the riverbank, trusting the horse’s sense and luck not to trip on the narrow path. He wove strands of power and flung them like a rope across the water to Ambient. At the same time, he desperately scanned the water and land, trying to figure out what the hell had caused Ambient to jump into the river. No reason was apparent.

James felt Ambient sense his rope and grab it with his mind. James tried to pull Ambient toward him. Ambient, however, wrenched the rope of power from James’s control and sent it flying ahead of him, downstream. What the fuck?

Ambient hit the outskirts of the boulder field and was immediately slammed into a rock the size of a small car. He managed to catch hold of it and stop.

James felt pain now in Ambient’s right side. He and Orange had finally caught up to him. Ambient was maybe thirty feet from shore. James pulled Orange to a halt and flung another rope to Ambient, this one laced with healing power. Ambient’s pain level dropped an instant later. But instead of letting James help him to safety, he resumed swimming through the rushing water without even glancing in James’s direction. He was heading, James thought, toward a tangle of tree limbs and debris caught in a V of rocks in the middle of the river.

And then James saw what Ambient was aiming for. A tiny white puppy was clinging to the limbs.

It all made sense. The car, the screaming tires, Ambient’s fury. Someone in the van had thrown the puppy into the water and gunned it. Ambient had gone in after it. Now James wished he’d exploded the bastard’s engine, not just overheated it.

James sensed that Ambient was using their combined power to hold the puppy in the tangle of limbs and not wash it farther downstream. Working together now, James focused on keeping the puppy safe and freed Ambient to concentrate on swimming.

In a few seconds, Ambient reached the debris. James used more power to keep Ambient in place against the current while Ambient scooped the terrified puppy out of the mess of tree limbs. As soon as Ambient had hold of the puppy, James let the limbs break loose. They rushed downstream so swiftly that James felt a burst of nausea. God, he hated water!

Ambient cradled the puppy against his shoulder with his left hand and grabbed tightly to James’s mental rope with his mind. As quickly as James could, he pulled them toward shore. Ambient had to deflect himself from several more rocks on the way, but in a few moments, he got out of the worst of the current. He struggled to his feet, holding the puppy close.

James jumped down from Orange and gave the horse a mental command to stay still. When Ambient reached the bank, which was about four feet high and stony, James crouched down.

“Here, take him,” Ambient gasped, trying to get the pup to let go of its death grip around his neck. “Some bastard in a van threw him out the window!”

“Yeah, I figured. I disabled the van just around the curve. Deal with him later. Come here, little guy. I’ve got you.”

The puppy didn’t want to leave his rescuer, but James finally got him peeled away. The poor guy—he was definitely a male, James noticed during the transfer—began to shake violently. He burrowed under James’s arm the moment he could.

“Is he okay? Can you tell if he’s hurt?” Ambient tried to scramble up the bank without taking his eyes off the pup and fell backward.

James leaned down and gave Ambient his spare hand. There was so much pain in the air that he couldn’t tell what was coming from the dog and what was coming from Ambient. For a moment, the river struggled to hold his partner, but love won. James pulled Ambient up and into an embrace. The terror was a memory now, but the echo of it made him hold Ambient very, very close. Ambient held him back just as fiercely.

Then the pup gave a muffled yelp from somewhere in between them. Quickly, they drew apart, set him down on the grass, and knelt on either side of him. The pup tried to stand up and couldn’t. His back end wasn’t moving. He looked up at them with terrified brown eyes. Then his front legs buckled and he collapsed with whimper. He turned and licked at his motionless back legs.

“Can you?” Ambient whispered.

James swallowed hard. He’d never healed an animal before. As much as he wanted to, without a human mind to connect with, he wasn’t sure how to go about it. After years of trying to analyze how he used his gift, he’d never figured out how it really worked. It just did. But would it work with an animal?

Ambient’s eyes looked just about as pitiful as the pup’s did. James drew a deep breath. His healing powers rose to meet him as he held out his hands. The little wet head turned toward him and sniffed. Despite everything, the tiny pink tongue licked his fingers.

James tried hard not to let his heart melt. He had to stay impersonal about this, because it might not end well. Even assuming he could heal a dog, a spinal injury might be beyond his ability. He’d only ever faced a damaged spine once before: Ambient’s. He’d been damn lucky that time. They’d both been damn lucky.

“Okay, little one,” James said. “Let’s see what we can do here. Lie still for me. That’s it. Good pup.” As he stroked the shivering body, he let his mind reach out just as he would to a human’s.

Holy shit! There was no difference at all! Brain, bones, organs, pulsing blood—life was life! James’s healing power went right to the place where a vertebra had broken and was pinching the spinal cord. Beneath his hands, the bone healed and the swelling faded away. The pup relaxed and let out a huge sigh as the pain disappeared. The shivering became a faint quiver.

“Oh, James!” Ambient whispered.

“There.” James ran his hands over the rest of the little body, checking the legs, the tail, the neck, the skull. The pup lay still at first, but by the time James was finished inspecting him, the little white tail thumped the ground. A second later, the pup was licking James’s fingers again, but with more gusto. Then the pup jumped up, gave himself a vigorous shake, and looked startled when Ambient swept him up into his arms and began to cry. But in a moment, the pup was licking Ambient’s face.

Then Ambient shivered.

“Come on, let’s get you two back to the trailer,” James said, remembering the horses and swiftly looking over his shoulder. Orange was standing quietly nearby, dozing in the sun, and Alexie was doing the same upstream where Ambient had tied her. They were still relaxed from the mental suggestion James had sent to them.

Huh.

“Are you sure he’s okay?” Ambient asked, getting to his feet without putting the pup down.

“He’s fine. But what about you? I felt you slam into a rock out there. After you gave me heart failure.”

“Sorry about that. Glad you got here when you did—the current was a little stronger than I thought.” Ambient flexed his torso. “Yeah, I’m a bit sore.” He met James’s eyes with a smile. “I think I’ll need your attention too, once we’re in the trailer.”

James smiled back. “I think I will be more than happy to oblige.” Not that James ever wanted Ambient to get hurt, but healing life’s bumps and bruises had become one of their most enjoyable occupations. Oh yeah, James would be happy to heal Ambient’s sore muscles. And check him over very carefully for other damage as well. With his hands and mouth and….

“But first,” he said with a sigh, rising and pulling out his phone, “we’d better call 911 about that bastard in the van. He can’t get away with this. You did say it was one guy, right?”

Ambient nodded and got to his feet, too. The pup snuggled under his chin. “James….”

James hesitated, holding his phone. He wasn’t sure what would happen to the pup. He assumed the police would take the little guy to a shelter to be evaluated. The vet would just assume the pup had been very, very lucky. Not even a strong adult dog would have fared well in that river. Ambient wouldn’t have fared well either, but James wasn’t going to let his mind go there again.

Then the pup peeked at him through the curtain of Ambient’s brown hair. Just a glimpse of those eyes was enough. It wasn’t fair that he had big, soft paws and sweet little ears as well. To say nothing about the fact that he would probably dry from his current drowned-rat look into a white puffball.

James groaned. “Look, we can ask about adopting him, all right? But we’ve got to report it, and they may want to take him in for now. I don’t know what the procedures are for something like this. But we can’t let that guy do this to some other animal.”

Ambient’s sudden smile was radiant. “You aren’t just saying that? You really want to adopt him too?”

James shrugged. “I’ve never had a pet, but he looks like he’d be as good as any. Not because I healed him or anything. I mean, we could look around at what the shelter’s got….”

Ambient burst out laughing, and James knew he wasn’t fooling his partner. But he still didn’t see how they could just go back to the trailer and ignore whoever had done this.

“It’s okay,” Ambient said, going serious. “We don’t have to report anything. Believe me, the guy in the van won’t ever mess with another animal. While you were busy just now, I—ah—did a little exploring with my mind in that direction.” Ambient nodded down the road. “The man sitting in the overheated van owns an apartment building in Burlington. One of his tenants just moved out and left the puppy. Rather than go through the hassle and expense of taking it to a shelter, he decided to chuck the pup in the river. While he was sitting there fuming, I sort of slipped into his mind and adjusted a few things. For example, he now has a phobia about dogs and cats that borders on the irrational. A kind of fear that they might chew on his private bits in the night. And that fear will get overwhelmingly stronger whenever he thinks about what he just did. To the point that he will not only never dream of doing it again, he won’t ever touch anything with fur again.”

James let himself grin. “Ambient, that sounds like witchcraft.”

Ambient shrugged and moved closer, slipping into James’s arms. “It does sound almost as though I’m a witch, doesn’t it?”

James hugged him. “We worked well together today. Jules is going to be proud.”

“Yeah.”

James looked down at Ambient and Little Pup. “I was thinking that today’s adventure changed something for me. This guy, and dumb old Orange here, have got me realizing that I have an affinity for animals I never knew I had. The best part is that I can heal them, and they aren’t going to be able to tell anybody. I mean, it’ll be a little tricky in some cases for sure, but this could be a really cool thing.”

“A modern Dr. Dolittle.” Ambient caressed James’s cheek. “Just as long as you always remember who your favorite healing subject is.”

“Ah, yes, I believe we were having a discussion about that a few minutes ago. Shall we return to our trailer, now that you have made it unnecessary to call the police?”

Ambient just tipped his head back. James remembered that they were supposed to be going dancing tonight. Somehow, he didn’t think that was going to happen. So he gathered Ambient and His Puppiness closer, moving them gently to the rhythm of the water and to the music of the thrushes that had begun to sing as the sun set. Much, much better than any loud club.

Just before James’s lips closed over Ambient’s, Orange shifted his drowsing weight. A ray of light from the setting sun that he’d been blocking with his body fell on them. In its soft glow, James couldn’t tell whose eyes were shining more—Ambient’s or the pup’s.

 

Did you enjoy M. Raiya’s story? If so, check out the rest of her books and take 25% off at checkout with the code MRaiyaFlash. Coupon code is good for one order per customer through February 3, 2015.

 

A Cherry on Top by J.S.Cook

January 3, 2015

Title: A Cherry on Top

Author: J.S. Cook

Pairing: Nino and Stanley (from But Not For Me)

Prompt: Cherry

 

“No kid, that ain’t the way to do it.” Nino Moretti’s words would have sounded harsh to the untutored ear, but Stanley Zadwadzki knew Nino was gently teasing him. “You don’t just stick it in there.”

Stanley smirked. “Why don’t you show me how?” he asked. “Since you seem to be the expert here.”

“Got nothing to do with expertise,” Nino said smugly. “Got to do with experience, and that’s one thing I got.” He gestured to himself. “Nino’s been around the block a time or two.”

“Just a time or two?” Stanley asked, grinning. It had taken him a long, long time to go from terrified with Big Frank to comfortable with Nino. Big Frank was gone—out of the picture, no longer a topic of conversation. It went without saying that Stanley was madly, head-over-heels in love with Nino, and Nino with him. Nino didn’t like to say it too often, though, in case some of the other guys might think he was getting soft. Nino was plenty soft on Stanley, but that didn’t mean he wanted to broadcast it to the world.

“Ahhh I ought to give you the back of my hand,” Nino cried—but he was teasing. Nino had never laid a hand on Stanley in anything but love, and he never would. You’re the center of my world, kid. He’d said this on more than one occasion when they were lying together in Nino’s bed, wrapped in each other’s arms and drifting in the contented bliss that only comes after a vigorous session of lovemaking. Without you I’m nothin’ and nobody.

“What about if I hold it different?” Stanley asked. He loosened his grip on the object in question, grasping it loosely between his thumb and index finger. “Does that make it better?”

“Lemme see,” Nino said. He reached to adjust Stanley’s grip. “Now that’s more like it.” His smile widened. “Yeah… that’s definitely like it. And not so loud, huh?” He glanced around at the other inhabitants of the bar. “We’re in mixed company.”

“Oh yeah,” Stanley said. He leaned back on the barstool and craned his neck to look around the room. “I suppose it’s all right, as long as we’re among friends.” It was dark where they were sitting, and there was little chance of being discovered in flagrante or anything else.

“Friends!” Nino emitted a short, sharp bark of something like laughter. “I ain’t got no friends.” He watched Stanley’s progress for a moment. Stanley must have done something right, because Nino relaxed and smiled. “Now you’re getting it. You gotta put most of the pressure right on the top, with your thumb, like.”

Stanley playfully slapped his hand away. “Let me do it!” He dropped his voice. “You don’t like to make things easy on a guy.”

Nino’s hand came to rest on Stanley’s thigh, close enough to his cock that it obligingly twitched. “Do I got your interest?” Nino’s dark eyes were twin pools of mischief. Stanley loved seeing him this way: relaxed and open, enjoying himself.

“So you want me to hold it like this,” Stanley said, adjusting his grip. “And my thumb goes here….”

“Don’t rub it so hard,” Nino hissed, “you ain’t gotta take the top off it.”

Just to tease him, Stanley leaned close and touched it with the very tip of his tongue. Nino groaned. “You’re killing me, here.” He closed his fingers over Stanley’s hand, guiding the younger man, teaching him. “Like that… you feel that?” His grip tightened. “But hold off until the very end.” He licked his lips. “Too soon, and you’re liable to spoil the whole racket.” Nino’s breathing was noticeably rougher, and his carefully cultivated sangfroid was melting pretty quickly. “Don’t be afraid to get it wet. That’s the whole point. You gotta get it good and wet first.”

Stanley’s hand moved quickly, there and back again. He watched Nino’s reaction, was gratified to see an open expression of pure pleasure. He liked it when Nino got like this. It made Stanley love him even more. When Nino was like this—as opposed to having people shot and causing general havoc—it deepened Stanley’s feelings for him. “Like this?” Stanley asked.

“Perfect,” Nino breathed, “that’s goddamn perfect. Now let it go.”

Stanley looked at him, his head tilted in confusion. “Let it go? But it’ll sink.”

“Let it.”

Stanley’s tongue slipped between his teeth. “Are you sure?”

“Sure as shooting,” Nino said. He grunted as Stanley let go of it. Both men bent to watch the maraschino cherry sink gracefully to the bottom of Nino’s whiskey sour. “Some people put it in first, just stick it in there. Me, I like it afterwards. Otherwise it takes the edge off the whiskey.” He slid the glass towards Stanley. “Go on, try it.”

Stanley warily sipped the cocktail. Nino’s taste in whisky was considerably stronger than his own, but Nino had been drinking longer. Stanley’s Kansas childhood forbade the consumption of alcoholic beverages, and other things. It wasn’t until Stanley met Nino that he found out what he’d been missing all these years.

“It’s delicious,” Stanley said. “Thank you.”

Nino slid off the stool and tossed some bills down on the bar. “Come on,” he said. “We’re going home.”

“But it’s only eight thirty,” Stanley protested. “I thought we were going to spend the evening—”

“We are,” Nino cut in. “But doing something a whole helluva lot more interesting than this.”

Stanley practically purred. “I like the sound of that. Can we leave the lights on this time?”

 

Whiskey Sour recipe

2 oz blended whiskey
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 tsp powdered sugar
1 cherry
1/2 slice lemon

 

Shake blended whiskey, juice of lemon, and powdered sugar with ice and strain into a whiskey sour glass. Decorate with the half-slice of lemon, top with the cherry, and serve.
Read more: Whiskey Sour recipe http://www.drinksmixer.com/drink4308.html#ixzz3MGdNbZBX

 

Did you enjoy J.S. Cook’s story? If so, check out the rest of her books and take 25% off at checkout with the code JSCookFlash. Coupon code is good for one order per customer through February 3, 2015.

The House on F Street by Christopher Hawthorne Moss

December 2, 2014

When I woke that morning, I was alone in the bed.  This was not unusual as Rufus often got up early to take his “customary constitutional on Constitution”, but I was sorry anyway.  Last night had been lovely, sweet and passionate at the same time.  After nights like that I always wanted to wake up in his arms.

I heard the door to my bedchamber open slowly and twisted my head to see if it was he.  “Oh, it’s you, Annie.”  Out of kindness to the girl, I hoped she did not hear the disappointment in my voice.

“A good mornin’ to you, Senator,” she replied in her brogue.  Annie is our maid of all work and came straight to Washington from somewhere near Limerick.  “I am here to open your curtains and to see if you’ll be after comin’ down for breakfast or want to have a tray brought up.”

I sat up in bed and made sure my nightshirt wasn’t a scandal.  “Is the Senator at home?” I asked her hopefully.

“Himself is not, sir,” she answered, grasping the heavy curtains and thrusting them apart with a clatter of the curtain rings.  “Senator King went out quite early this morning.”

I sighed.  It was a special day, you see.  It was St. Valentine’s Day, and I so wanted to spend it with, well, my paramours is a word I have heard it called.  I am sure the wags in Congress have unkinder terms than that.  I had hoped to breakfast with Rufus on this special day of all days.  I knew he had not forgotten, as he had made reference to the occasion when we lay together in my bed last evening.

“I shall take my meal in here then.  Will you be a dear and hand me my dressing gown?”

A neat and prim little woman, no older than 25, Annie was a country girl and seemingly blessedly ignorant of the ways of the world.  I once overheard her speaking with the boy who delivers produce talking in low tones.  He appeared to have been telling her how my old friend Andrew Jackson called me “Miss Nancy” and my dear Rufus “Aunt Fancy”.  She must have expressed some confusion as I saw him lean to her and whisper something in her ear.  She drew back with a look of horror on her face and exclaimed, “Jack, no!  Senator Buchanan is a very respectable statesman, so he is.  He and Senator. King are just housemates.  I never heard such a shameful thing in all me days,” she went on.  “I am thinkin’ you have a filthy mind, Jack Hamilton.”

I was loath to believe that she was that innocent, I must tell you.  But then so young and just off the boat, who knows?  I saw to it she got a stern talking to by our cook, Mabel, who impressed upon the girl the importance of not sharing tales with the likes of delivery boys.

I had breakfasted and dressed and decided to go into my study and read up on two bills that my party would bring to a vote in the afternoon.  I took my seat by the small fireplace to read when I happened to look up at the mantelpiece.  I sat and stared for a moment, sensing something missing.  I realized with a start that the empty place on the wall was where my painting of Mr. Jackson, Old Hickory, should be. It was a gift from him.   “My stars!” I exclaimed.  I shot up from my chair and flew to the door.  When I was in the hall I shouted, “Annie!  Come here this instant!”

In a moment the girl was standing before me, her eyes wide and her hands twisting anxiously in her apron.  “Whatever be amiss, sir?” she asked.

“That!” I said, pointing to the bare spot on the wall.

She peered in the direction I indicated.  “Sir?”

“See for yourself!” I accused.

She crept past me, crossing the room to peer closely at the wall.  She carefully looked all around, her nose no more than a few inches from pressing against the wallpaper.  She reached up a pale finger and touched a spot.  She finally turned to me with a perplexed expression.  “I be that sorry, Senator, but I’m not findin’ anything amiss.”

Making an impatient harrumph, I stated, “That is just what I mean, girl.  You don’t see anything amiss… because what should be there is missing.”

She turned back and looked, then threw up her hands and said, “Saints preserve us!  Why this is where that picture of that disagreeable looking old gentleman should be.  What happened to it?”

“That ‘disagreeable old gentleman, as you describe him, my dear, is the seventh President of these United States, Mr. Andrew Jackson!  The painting was a gift to me from that august personage.  And how should I know where it’s gone?  I called you in here to have you tell me that.”

Her look of chagrin quickly shifted to hurt feelings.  With her fists on her narrow hips she muttered something in what I assume was Irish and then, in what passes for English through her lips, she said, “Senator, you cannot be suggestin’ that I should take the old thing, now, would you?”

I realized she was right, that I had not taken care to be clear that all I wanted to know was if she had removed the portrait.  “I beg your pardon, Annie.  I was intemperate.  I merely wanted to know if the picture had been removed for some reason.”

Giving me such a look of “Are you simple?” she shook her head.  “Well I am that certain that it has, Senator.  By whom and why I cannot tell.”

Now I was annoyed that she should take such an insolent approach to my obvious wish to learn where my treasured portrait of Old Hickory had been removed to.  Impatiently I demanded, “Then go ask cook what she knows.”

Annie put her proud shoulders back and an imperious nose in the air and whisked out of the study.  “Aye, sir, that I shall.”

I followed her to prevent her from sharing her less flattering thoughts about me with the cook.  When I arrived at the kitchen just behind her I heard her ask, in a manner of utmost asperity, where the portrait of Mr. Jackson that was hung on the Senator’s study wall above the mantelpiece might be.

The cook looked up at me then and bobbed a respectful curtsy.  “Senator Buchanan, I cannot say.”  She turned towards the scullery door and called out, “Jack, come in here.”

From the scullery emerged the tousled headed befreckled face of the young scamp, Jack Hamilton.  “Ma’am?” he squeaked.  He had a partly consumed piece of cake in his grubby hand.

I took over the questioning.  “Young man, a very valuable picture is missing from my study.  Do you know anything about that?”

The boy looked from me to Mabel and then to Annie, the look on his face bespeaking a readiness to make up a story turned into genuine puzzlement.  “Why, no, sir.  I never even seen it.”

Annie said smugly, “It’s a paintin’ of the seventh president of these United States, it is!”

The boy looked back at me, wide eyed.  I headed off whatever he was going to say.  “Never mind, boy.  I shall no doubt have to summon a policeman to look into the matter.  Would be so kind as to find one and send him to this house?”

He had gone pale, making me wonder if I had been hasty in exonerating him from guilt, but with one look at Mabel, he stuffed the rest of the cake in his mouth, said something no one could have understood, took his soft cap from a back pocket, and exiting quickly, pulled it onto his head.

It was clear when no officer of the law arrived at my front door within a half hour that Jack had not made the effort.  I called for Annie to fetch my coat, gloves and hat.  I shall go to the Senate for the rest of the day.  If I see a policeman on the way, I will enlist his assistance.”

In the foyer, she helped me on with my coat.  I asked, “Is Senator King expected to take his supper at home, do you know?”

“I do not, sir.  The Senator left so early this morn that I did not see to speak to him”

I went out the door onto F Street where carts and horses clattered by and natty young gentleman strode with purpose on some business.  I had no eye for them at the moment, intent as I was on getting to the Hill.

I did let myself become distracted from time to time as I made my way to Constitution Avenue and the Capitol for I was anxious to spy Rufus along the way so I could inform him of the missing portrait.  I was not far from my own destination when I caught sight of him, head to head with a most attractive and elegant young man, laughing and sharing a pleasant moment together.  I was about to call to him when I saw him put his arm about the younger man’s shoulders.  I quite simply froze.  I did not call out.

Rufus is an extremely handsome and well turned out fellow.  I on the other hand am plain and what some would call dumpy.  I should lie if I did not say it had puzzled me these several years that a man as fine-looking as my Rufus should want to be with me, to live with me, to be my one and only.  The result of this uncertainty has been a sort of vigilance where my love’s attention might turn, if that attention is to another quite good looking fellow.  I am quite sure some day I shall lose Rufus to such a one.  I shall be the pathetic abandoned lover, pitiful in all men’s eyes.

I sighed and turned to walk quickly away.

Seeing a policeman as I approached the Capitol, I waylaid the man and described my loss, the portrait of Old Hickory and not, of course, the future loss of my dearest one, nor of my heart and present peace of mind.  He promised to go to my house straight away to look into the matter.

I spent a dispirited day, I can tell you, feeling as if everything I cared for was slipping through my fingers.  Rufus was not at luncheon in the Senate dining hall, and as a result I was quite unapproachable and some of my colleagues made some quite common remarks that should not be spoken of in the presence of the fairer sex.  Fortunately there were none about in the Senate.

As I wended my way home to our house on F Street , I lacked an appetite for my supper.  I fully expected to find my portrait still gone, no news from the policeman, and no Rufus awaiting me with a glass of whiskey and a cigar.

Annie, it seemed, was no more cheerful with me.  With no syllable of her lilting speech, she took my hat, gloves and coat.  When I asked if the Senator was at home, she gave me a tight-lipped shake of the head and left me standing there quite alone.  I proceeded into the parlor with the newspaper which I had taken from the hall table and found my own whiskey and cigar, feeling most misused.

I had despaired of companionship at supper when I heard the front door open and close.  I heard Rufus’s voice, shushing Annie as he divested himself of his coat and the rest.    My heart beat faster waiting for my love to come into the parlor, then it fell when I heard his footsteps pass the door and head up the staircase.  I sat for a while trying to decide what to do.  Why had he shushed Annie?  Was there someone with him?  Someone he took up to his rooms?

I had had enough.  I threw down the paper I was reading and stormed out of the parlor and up the stairs.  I went to Rufus’s bedchamber door and without announcing myself, I reached for the doorknob.  I was surprised when it turned and the door opened.  I had half expected it locked, to prevent discovery of whatever indiscretion my Rufus was involved in.

“Jamie, dear!” he called, obviously startled.  He spun to face me, and I could not help but stare, admiring him, his slender but manly form, his fine features, his dapper apparel.  I found myself thinking, whatever you have done to break my heart, dear boy, I shall forgive you.  What I said aloud however was “What are you hiding, Rufus?”

The look he gave me then shook me to the core.  He looked embarrassed, sheepish, and guilty.  I thought, Here it is.  The death of the idyll. 

I had to sit down.  I stumbled to a chair and planted my backside heavily.

“Oh Jamie, I wanted it to be a surprise.  I was going to give it to you at supper.”

I looked up sharply at Rufus.  “You what?”  I gazed into his eyes to see them twinkling, so full of love and happiness.

He slowly turned and lifted a package wrapped in brown paper and tied with twine.  “Since you caught me with it, I suppose I shall just give it to you now.”  He came towards me, and I stood to face him.  He held the package out to me.

“Happy Valentine’s Day, dearest Jamie,” said in that soft warm voice of his with its Alabama drawl.  “I love you.”

I must have looked like a trout, standing, holding the package and staring into his eyes open-mouthed.  “I-I love you too, my darling Rufus,” I managed to get out.  “What is it?”

“Open it.  Here, I’ll cut the string with my pocket knife.”  He proceeded to match his actions to his words.  The twine felt to the floor and, meticulous as he always is, he crouched to pick it up and tuck it in his pocket.

I turned over the package and unfolded the brown paper with which it was wrapped.  I could see at once that I was looking at the back of a frame.  The wire for hanging it was attached.  I turned the gift over as Rufus carefully refolded the paper and set it aside to reuse.  He is as frugal as he is meticulous.  Well, except for fashions.  Those he spends what he must on.

He looked at me expectantly as I gazed back, then I lowered my eyes and was confused.  What I held in my hands was my portrait of Andrew Jackson.  The portrait that Jackson himself gave me.  I stammered, “W-why, Rufus, it’s wonderful.”

“What a silly man you can be, Jamie.  Look at it.  There is something different.  That is your gift.”

I looked again, perplexed.  Then I realized what the difference was.  “It’s the frame. It’s new.”

Rufus gave me one of those patient indulgent looks he often gives me when I am being obtuse.  “Yes, but you don’t see it, do you.  The wood.  It’s hickory!  Old hickory!”

My Rufus was the one who had removed my treasured portrait of Old Hickory and had a new frame made of old hickory wood.  I was speechless with wonder and gratitude.

Rufus went on chattily.  “I was on Constitution today as I was going to pick this up at the woodworker.  I ran into Simon Beauregard.  Do you remember him?  That very tiresome fellow from Tuscaloosa.  I was so excited about seeing the new frame I could not get away from him fast enough.  He is a pretty man, to be sure, but all I could do was pretend to laugh at his jokes and get away as soon as I could manage.”

He reached to take the portrait away from me and set it down on a table.  He walked the short distance to the door and bolted it.  He came back, took me in his arms, and pressed his sweet lips to my own thin ones.  I relaxed into his embrace.

“I do so love you, Jamie,” he said softly when we ended the kiss.  “These past years have been such golden ones.  Promise you will never leave me for some younger, more handsome man.”

I could only lean back in for another of his delicious kisses.

“Take me to bed, Jamie,” he sighed against my lips.

“But what about supper?” I reminded him.

“It can wait.”  His hands were already at my cravat loosening it as he applied the firm but gentle pressure to my chest to guide me through the door and into his bedchamber.

_______________
Author’s note:  Was President James Buchanan gay?  He and William Rufus King lived together for many years and their colleagues in the Senate called them “Mr. and Mrs. Buchanan”.  Their nieces burned all their letters.  Let’s just say we don’t really know if he was, but then again we don’t really know that he wasn’t.

 _______________
Christopher Hawthorne Moss wrote his first short story when he was seven and has spent some of the happiest hours of his life fully involved with his colorful, passionate, and often humorous, characters. Moss spent some time away from fiction, writing content for websites before his first book came out under the name Nan Hawthorne in 1991. He has since become a novelist and is a prolific and popular blogger; he is the historical fiction editor for the GLBT Bookshelf, where you can find his short stories and thoughtful and expert book reviews. Moss is transgender, having been born with a female body but a male heart and mind. He lives full time as a gay man in the Pacific Northwest with his partner of over thirty years and their doted upon cats. He owns Shield-wall Productions. Moss welcomes comment from readers via email and can be found on Facebook and Twitter.

Last First Kiss by Cardeno C.

September 28, 2014

I stumbled into the kitchen and rubbed my bleary eyes. Caffeine. I needed my fix. The coffee machine was my first stop, but when I knocked over the carafe and dropped the grounds, I was forced to concede defeat. Apparently, I wasn’t awake enough to brew a pot. No worries. I was prepared for these types of emergencies. I pulled the refrigerator door open and fumbled inside until I had a bottle of Diet Coke in my grasp.

I had the bottle tipped all the way back and the last of the caramel-colored elixir flowing into my throat when I heard a voice.

“It’s nice to know some things don’t change.”

Seeing as how I lived alone, I found the question disconcerting. Particularly because I recognized that voice: Preston Shultz, the man who had disappeared from my life ten years earlier. Was I still asleep?

I reluctantly lowered the bottle and blinked until I could see clearly. Yup, that was Preston. Older, a bit less hair on top, a bit more hair on his face, but the crystal-blue eyes were just as bright, the crooked smile just as warm.

“Uh,” I grunted.

He put his arm around my shoulder, led me to the table, and pulled out a chair. “Sit,” he said as he deposited me on the wooden surface. Then he walked over to the coffee maker, picked up the carafe, and started pouring water and measuring grounds. “I’m assuming you still take it strong enough to wake the dead?”

He didn’t wait for my answer. Good idea because the only thing I seemed capable of saying was, “uh.”

Eventually, he came to the table holding a giant mug. I instinctively reached for it and he smiled at me, the sides of his eyes crinkling. I’m pretty sure I stopped breathing.

First my brain, now my lungs — I was down two major organs.

As I took a sip, Preston sat next to me and pulled his chair so close that his knees touched mine. I moaned. Strong and sweet, just how I liked my coffee. And my men.

“Good?” he asked.

I nodded. “What …” It was a step up from “uh” but still not coherent. I raised the mug back up to my lips. By the time I finished the coffee, some memories from the night before had started surfacing.

Preston knocking on my door, saying he missed me, asking me to take him back. Me yelling, and then crying, and then collapsing in his arms.

He was back. We were back.

I darted my gaze over to his still-handsome face. “You didn’t kiss me last night.”

He leaned in and cupped my cheek. “You were so tired. I wanted to make sure you’d remember our first kiss.”

“We’ve kissed lots of times,” I corrected him.

“Not like this.” His voice was barely a whisper. “This will be our last first kiss.”

His lips met mine and my heart stuttered. That was three organs down. I needed more caffeine.
_______________________
Cardeno C.—CC to friends—is a hopeless romantic who wants to add a lot of happiness and a few “awwws” into a reader’s day. Writing is a nice break from real life as a corporate type and volunteer work with gay rights organizations. Cardeno’s stories range from sweet to intense, contemporary to paranormal, long to short, but they always include strong relationships and walks into the happily-ever-after sunset.

Alive and Free by E E Montgomery (Free Story)

September 19, 2012

To celebrate Talk Like a Pirate Day I wrote a short story to share with everyone.

First Officer and pirate Brian Owen has secrets. Some secrets he has to keep from everyone. Some he keeps from the two men he loves most in the world. When Owen’s past collides violently with his present, all his secrets are revealed and everyone he loves is at risk. While his ship is attacked and sunk, Owen has to decide whether to save the family he misses or the one he’s made since.

Find it on my website: www.eemontgomery.com.

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The Troll and The Sweet Roll by Eon de Beaumont (Free Story)

September 19, 2012

Keyfer wrapped his fist with the tape, then turned his head, cracking the bones in his neck. He looked across the sawdust of the Wishborne Arena at his opponent. The big bastard was at least a foot taller than Keyf and twice as broad. He was pale and bald with a fat ginger mustache in contrast to the young pirate’s long, auburn hair, slight frame, and sun-goldened skin. Keyfer readied himself for the big man’s first punch. Someone barked Keyf’s name and his opponent’s as well, Dronson.

The two men circled the arena, their fists raised before their eyes. Keyfer eyed Dronson, noticing the man’s mouth quirk beneath his mustache. A tell. Keyf ducked as the man swung his fist, driving a punch to Dronson’s barrel-like ribcage.

“Ha. Good one, pirate.” Dronson smirked and bounced around the ring. Keyf remained silent, not taking his opponent’s bait. Keyf threw a punch with his left hand, and Dronson slapped it away. Keyf followed with a right that Dronson blocked as well. Then the big man countered with a right hook that caught Keyfer on the shoulder. Dronson underestimated his own reach. Keyf shook off the blow and dashed forward with two quick punches to Dronson’s midsection. Before he could drop back, the big man brought a fist down on Keyf’s back, driving the pirate to his knees in the sawdust.

Keyf didn’t miss a beat and rolled away from his opponent. Dronson stamped at Keyfer as the pirate scrabbled around the arena. Dronson growled in frustration and lunged at the smaller, quicker man. Keyfer dodged, and Dronson kicked out, catching him in the stomach and forcing the breath from Keyf’s lungs. The crowd’s cheers were sprinkled with boos of disapproval. If Dronson wanted to fight dirty, Keyfer was ready to return the favor.

The pirate dashed up and slapped his larger opponent. Dronson grunted angrily and swung at Keyfer, who rolled away. From the sawdust, Keyf lashed out with his foot, catching the other man’s ankle and toppling him to the dirt. Keyfer loosed a chuckle that infuriated Dronson even more. The big, bald boxer dove for the smaller pirate, who stood up, crashing his skull into Dronson’s jaw. The other man blinked twice before collapsing to the sawdust. Keyfer threw his hands into the air as the crowd erupted with cheers. The men climbed over the rails and rushed the ring, hoisting Keyf onto their shoulders.

After the impromptu celebration, the arena master approached Keyf as the pirate dressed. “That was quite a show,” Blenter stated. “Well done, my son.”

“Isn’t there a prize for beating your gorilla?” Keyfer asked, pulling his wool coat from the bench.

“So there is. So there is,” Blenter answered, pulling a wad of bills from his waistcoat. He reluctantly counted out half and handed it over. “You ought to come back when Greymarrow’s here. That would be a fight I’d like to see.”

“Maybe,” Keyfer said noncommittally as he stuffed the bills in his overcoat. “I don’t know how much longer we’ll be here.” Keyfer walked out of the arena, wondering how his shipmates were faring with their interviews and inquiries. Wishborne’s arena had been a welcome distraction for the restless young buccaneer.

Out on the street, Keyfer pushed his way through the crowd looking for his friend and lover, Radish. The Alchemist Radley Timmons (Radish to his friends) had joined the crew of the Wayward Grace a few months ago and it wasn’t long before Keyfer fell for the bespectacled young man with the strawberry blond hair. Keyfer reached up and adjusted the rope holding his own messy brown locks in a ponytail that trailed between his shoulder blades. He wanted his hair out of his eyes so he could spot Radish easily.

Billy, captain of the Wayward Grace, and her two crewmen had come to this remote town seeking to hire a new magic user for their ship. They’d lost their last mage, Dill, a faerie spellweaver, in a terrible storm and subsequent crash. Though Keyf showed some latent aptitude for the mystic arts, he was unwilling to investigate that power for the time being.

Keyfer’s breath formed a cloud before his eyes as he pulled the collar of his wool coat up. The weather in Wishborne certainly wasn’t what the young pirate was used to. Wishborne lay hidden in the mountains between Anglica and Weylan. The inhospitable forests provided natural cover enhanced by wards and magic placed on them at various times by its wizarding founders. The crown looked upon magic as highly volatile and criminal, forcing most sorcerers and witches to hide their talents from the world at large. Wishborne existed as a place away from prying eyes where they could retreat for seclusion, without fear of repercussion.

The village had soon become a haven for the less scrupulous element of society. Bandits, highwaymen and other unsavory characters used Wishborne to disappear when their shenanigans landed them in the sights of their local constabulary. Faeries and the Fey Folk were a not uncommon sight on the Wishborne high street and Keyf had to sidestep to allow a pair of tiny hedgehogs dressed like the finest of gentleman to shuffle past.

He smiled as he thrust his hands into his coat pockets. The little Hedgehog men owned a shop of mystical objects and items that would aid in all manner of dishonest pursuits; amulets, rings of invisibility, and even a hand-shaped candle that froze everyone in a home while unlocking every door in the building. They had other less than savory items that could do all manner of unspeakable things to men but they kept those in a back room behind a thick dark curtain. Keyf had never visited that portion of their store, but he had entered numerous times just to look at the curiosities within. The price of the objects prevented him from actually buying anything in the little shop. He watched as the spiky proprietors opened their round, red door and entered their storefront. Although the door wasn’t always in the same spot each day, it was the only thing on the dreary street with any color, unfortunately the color of fresh blood.

Keyfer had to admit Wishborne may have once been a picturesque little village, looking like something plucked directly from an Anglican Faerie Tale, but it looked now like a child’s story with the innocence and soul drained away. The buildings were dark, drab and in most cases in need of serious repair. A foul smog sullied the air above the city and the streetlights burned  constantly, some regular gaslights and others glowing a faint eldritch blue. Unsavory characters milled about on every corner. He wondered why they’d called it Wishborne, for it was more like a place where wishes came to die. Wishkill, Keyf thought and shivered.

Despite all the villains in such a small space, Wishborne remained quiet and civil with nearly no crime at all, unlike most other villages of its kind. Of course, breaking the law in Wishborne wouldn’t earn you a cell in a dreary dungeon. You’d more likely be set on fire, fed to a giant toad, or turned into a giant toad and forced to eat criminals. It could be some combination of the three as well. Everyone mostly kept to themselves or carried on polite conversations. Keyfer heard that the original founder had created a spell to protect the city that carried on to this day.

Keyfer turned in surprise when he heard the commotion start at the far end of the high street. He could see sparks and magic, lightning and bird feathers as the excitement rippled through the crowds of people on the streets.

“What’s the hullabaloo?” A familiar voice asked near Keyf’s jewelry-laden ear.

“I don’t know, Radish.” Keyf turned toward his friend. “Just started. Where’s Billy?”

“Still in the tavern,” Radish answered indicating the saloon behind him. “She’s settling up the tab.”

“Any luck?” Keyf asked.

“Quite a bit of luck, actually. All bad, I’m afraid.” Radish removed his delicate spectacles and cleaned them with his scarf. “She found a stuffy, old sorcerer but he’s not looking for a life of adventure on the high seas. Or above them for that matter. He just wants to sit in a drawing room reading books. A few months ago I might have agreed with him.” Radish smirked and then planted a quick kiss at the corner of Keyfer’s mouth.

“Bollocks,” Keyfer growled. “What—“ he didn’t finish the question because a woman screamed as the source of the disturbance rushed into view. A strange, lanky man ran out of the crowd on the sidewalk. His clothes were odd with bits of clockwork stuck to them, and he had traveling goggles perched atop his bright orange hair. Keyfer thought he might be a Faerie from the way he guffawed as he ran from what passed for the town guard: two empty suits of armor. They clanked after the man, firing spells at him from wooden staffs in their tarnished hands.

As the man passed Keyfer and Radish, he plucked Radish’s spectacles from his hands and continued running.

“Hey!” Radish called after him. “I need those.”

“Damn!” Keyfer wasted no time dashing after the odd thief. He heard Radish calling to him but knew without his spectacles, his friend would only slow him down. The stranger elbowed people out of his way as he continued careening down the street, the suits of armor in his wake. The stranger hurdled a cart of dodgy vegetables, and the first suit of armor attempted the same, catching its foot on the side and toppling to pieces on the ground.

The stranger grabbed a lamppost, spinning around it and kicking the other suit of armor. The pieces scattered on impact and the merry thief continued his mad dash. A grizzled older fellow dressed like one of the frontiersmen of Allied Libertannia stepped out of a shop only to have his hat snatched by the giggling stranger.

“Oi!” The old man growled and took up the chase just in front of Keyfer. Unfortunately, the stranger had just dashed around a large man with skin like stone, standing in front of the sweet shop. The old fellow crashed right into the giant of a man, causing the bigger man to drop the box of treats in his huge hands. The old stranger regained his footing quickly and continued after the thief.

“You made me drop my sweet rolls,” the stone man said as Keyfer dashed past him, the suits of armor in pieces around his pounding feet. It looked as if they were trying to reunite with themselves but Keyfer didn’t have time to pause and see if they’d manage it. He was right on the old man’s heels now, and he could hear a steady stream of curses as he ran. The old fellow pulled a clockwork pistol from under his coat and fired at the thief. The stranger ducked around the next corner into an alley.

“Got ‘im now,” the chasing man growled. “That alley’s a dead end.”

Keyfer wondered if the older bloke addressed him or spoke to himself. Either way, both pursuers turned the corner a moment later, surprised to find the alley empty. “What the hell?” Keyfer asked.

“Damn it!” The grizzled stranger dragged a hand through his long gray hair. “How’d he do that?”

“Magic?” Keyfer asked. Keyf sniffed the air. “Do you smell elderberries?”

“That wasn’t magic,” the older man stated confidently, pointing at the dead end. Keyfer was about to ask him how he could tell when the heavy sounds of drums filled the alley. Then Keyfer noticed the man’s hat sat on the cobblestones at the end of the alley with Radish’s spectacles resting on the brim. The man in the long leather coat stooped to pick up the spectacles. “These yours?”

“My friend’s,” Keyfer answered taking the delicate glasses. “Thanks.”

“Hey!” The stone man’s voice boomed from the entrance to the alley. “You made me drop my sweet rolls.”

“Hold on there, mate.” The old man held up his hands. “I’m sure we can straighten this out like proper gentlemen. Um, or gentletrolls, as it were.”

Troll? Keyfer thought. That’s a troll? As the old fellow retrieved his hat, Keyf stared at the first troll he’d ever seen. The troll’s stony brows rose in shock and then turned down with anger.

“Aw shite,” the grey haired man spat, and Keyfer turned to see a pristine sweet roll sitting on the street just beneath the poor bastard’s hat.

“You stole my sweet roll!” the troll bellowed.

“Aw shite.” Keyfer echoed the stranger’s sentiment. The troll stormed into the alley and with a hand like a gravestone batted Keyf out of the way. He flew against the wall of the alleyway and bounced off, landing hard on the cobblestones.

“Keyfer!” Billy shouted from the street. Keyf took his eyes off the old man, who had assumed a boxing stance as the troll advanced. Poison Billy Stillwater, his oldest friend and adoptive sister, rushed over to Keyfer with Radish in tow. Billy’s fiery green eyes sparkled beneath her tricorn hat, and Keyf was relieved to see her. Keyfer handed his friend’s spectacles back. Radish slipped them on quickly, and they all watched as the old man traded punches with the troll. He walloped the big bugger in the jaw, and a tooth like a paving stone shot out of its mouth. The troll threw a left that the gray-haired man ducked only to get hit with a right just after. The three friends winced at the bone rattling impact.

“Damn it, man,” the old bloke spat. “I didn’t steal your sweet roll!” He charged the troll and landed a tremendous upper cut that knocked the big beast back. Then the determined older fellow hauled his foot back and aimed a kick right between the monster’s legs. The troll doubled over, cradling its sensitive stones. “I’m sorry I had to do that, son, but you wouldn’t listen to reason.”

“Trolls are real?” Radish whispered the question as the triumphant stranger retrieved his hat a second time.

“Apparently,” Billy answered.

“And that old fellow just fought one with his bare hands,” Keyfer added with awe and respect.

“Halt.” A tinny voice drifted down the alley. The rusty suits of armor had reassembled, although one of them was missing a glove. “You are a criminal, sir.”

“This isn’t what it looks like.” The tough, old bastard held his hands up again. Keyf noticed his knuckles were torn.

“That troll accused you of theft and you assaulted it,” the armor stated.

“All right, then it’s exactly what it looks like.” The man scratched his stubbly chin slowly.

“The sentence is transfigurment. A candlestick, I should think.”

“Too lenient,” the second suit of armor stated.

“Obliteration?” the first asked. Its partner nodded noisily. “Obliteration, it is.”

“Let’s not get hasty there, mate.”

“Second,” the armor addressed his partner. “Fire!” But before either suit of armor could attack the perpetrator, they were lifted into the air and smashed together.

“Sorry, Lumpy. I can’t let you do that.” The man held his hands out toward the mixed up suits of armor. An arcane purple light emanated from his skin.

“He’s a wizard.” Keyfer stood. The old wizard walked over to the wall of the alley and placed his hand on the plaster. The once-white material bubbled and rippled. With his other hand, he guided the various bits of armor to the wall, where they sank into the plaster trapping the enchanted metal bits.

“You have committed a grievous crime, sir.” The helmet stated from its plaster prison. “The sentence is death! The sentence is death!”

“Damn. Looks like I’ve overstayed my welcome,” the scruffy wizard lamented. His attention was drawn by a moan from the troll. “Shite,” he barked and walked over to the beast, leveling a kick to its jaw, knocking it unconscious.

“Death!” the armor screeched. “The sentence is death!”

“Nothin’ for it.” The guilty wizard shrugged, turning on his heel and running for the street.

“Hold on!” Keyfer jumped over and grabbed the man’s sleeve. Keyf tipped a wink at his mates before he asked, “Need a ride?”

The tough, old wizard squinted one eye and studied first Keyfer, then Radish and Billy. “Pirate?”

Keyf smirked and shrugged. “Guilty,” he answered. “Sometimes.”

“You have a ship?”

“We do,” Billy answered. “I’m her captain.”

“We’re a tad far from water for pirates,” the old man replied.

“I guess it’s a good thing she’s an airship.” Billy crossed her arms and raised her chin.

The old man’s grey brows raised wrinkles on his forehead. “An airship?”

“Aye.”

“This I have to see.” The odd wizard slapped Keyfer on the shoulder and offered his hand. “Curtis Greymarrow,” he said, introducing himself.

“Keyfer Lockswit,” Keyf said, taking the offered hand. Greymarrow raised a brow at the name. “Long story. I’ll tell you some time. This is Radish Timmons, and you’ve already met Poison Billy.”

“Pleased to meet you folks,” Greymarrow answered as they walked quickly away from the scene of the crime.

“Mr. Greymarrow?” Radish asked. “If you can use magic, why fight a troll bare knuckled?”

“Must keep my hand in, mustn’t I? Don’t want to lose my touch. I find magic to be used best as a last resort.” The wizard smiled. “Plus it’s dead fun, fist fightin’ trolls.”

Keyfer smiled as they reached the edge of Wishborne. He was really beginning to like the grizzled old wizard. “There she is,” Keyf said pointing at the ship, now visible over the trees. “The Wayward Grace.”

The Grace had been fully converted from a sea vessel to an airship since the crew had modified her with whatever they could get their hands on to escape the island that had once been their prison but was now their hideout. Her hull remained basically unchanged though she sported bat-like wings and enormous fans to move her through the air. Large cloth bladders clung to the hull with wooden shields wrapped around them. An enormous canvas rudder on the rear of the ship assisted with maneuverability and on the bow the original masthead beamed down like an angel.

The wizard stopped in his tracks, looking up with his mouth agape and his lilac colored eyes wide. “Bugger me sideways. You’ve really got an airship.”

“Did you think we were lying, Mr. Greymarrow?” Radish asked.

Greymarrow, Keyfer thought as he finally made the connection. “I’m glad I didn’t sign up to fight you, old man,” Keyf stated, patting the stunned wizard on the shoulder.

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Short Story: My Brother Benjamin by J. P. Barnaby

March 13, 2011

The hammer shook in Jamie Duncan’s tiny hand. The job of putting it back on his father’s garage workbench was forestalled by confusion and fear. Eight years old, he did not have the frame of reference needed to process what he was seeing. The frayed and battered tennis shoes, the ones his brother Benjamin wore every single day, were suspended about a yard from Jamie’s frightened face. Surprised amusement had surrendered quickly to shocked disbelief as Jamie noticed the white socks still peeking out from below his brother’s jeans, just above those beloved red canvas shoes.

A strangled scream, drowned in his panic, erupted from him as nothing but a strained whimper. Reaching out, Jamie touched his big brother’s leg, alien in its stillness. The younger boy could not remember a time when Benjamin had ever been so still; it was almost worse than the silence. Staggering back several feet, Jamie continued to stare at the cherry colored sneakers, terrified to look any higher and see his brother’s face.

“Benji?” Jamie whispered, his voice small and scared, it was almost as if he were trying to wake his big brother, like he did after he’d had a bad dream. In his heart, the little boy wished as hard as he could. In fact, some may have even called it prayer. He wished that Benjamin would wake up and tell him that there was nothing to be afraid of.

“Benji, I’m scared.” He thought about how his brother would sigh and pretend to be mad when Jamie woke him in the middle of the night. In the end, the older boy would always pull his blankets back, inviting his little brother in so he could protect Jamie from the monsters.

Jamie looked up to see his brother’s staring, unseeing eyes and he knew that the monsters had finally gotten Benji.

Standing as high as his little feet would allow, Jamie stretched up and pulled at his big brother’s T-shirt. He wanted to make Benji mad, to make him yell – because even yelling would be better than the silent blank stare. A crumpled piece of notebook paper fell from his brother’s slackened grip and dropped to the grungy floor. Not taking his eyes from those red sneakers, Jamie bent and scooped up the note.

Slowly, he sounded out each word like Mrs. Martin had taught him. Reading the words around the damp smudges, he thought maybe his brother had been writing in the rain.

Their hatred burns like fire, scorching, consuming

The very air blisters my lungs

I can’t breathe

Acrid smoke blocks out the sun

I can’t see

Roaring Flames engulf my soul

Everything lies in ruins

There is nothing left

 

I’m just so tired. I can’t fight anymore.

They tell me I’m going to go to hell for being a fag and maybe I am, but it can’t be any worse than school.

I’m so sorry. Please tell Jamie that I’m sorry. I’m supposed to be there to protect him but how can I do that when I can’t even protect myself?

 

Clutching the note against his chest, Jamie sank to the floor and pulled his knees up trying to protect himself from the weight of his brother’s confession. He knew what it was like for kids at school to be mean. Joey Thompson had pushed him off the bars at recess a few days ago. In his child’s view, he couldn’t understand why Benji didn’t tell a teacher. They had to have teachers in the tenth grade, just like they did in third.

The reality of his brother’s death became more real for Jamie as he held the note in his hand. He wanted to run, he wanted to tell someone, but he just couldn’t leave his brother alone. In that note Benji sounded so scared. Benji would never have left Jamie if he were feeling scared.

Jamie continued to sit on the cold concrete floor below his brother’s body and waited for someone to come.


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Copyright (c) 2011 – J. P. Barnaby – http://www.jpbarnaby.com