Wood…

Black Cats and Bad Luck is a magical fantasy novel with witches and familiars. And magic! Obviously. While one of the main characters, Mason, has strange dreams that might be magical, unless he’s crazy, Mason himself isn’t part of the magical community. He does have one strange power in this deleted scene from the novel.

~

Mason

Different elements resonated with different people. Some possessed the fiery temperament of a raging inferno. Others were steady and calm as a peaceful river. Many Pagans were at home in the forest, the earth welcoming them in while birdsong created a melody, the perfect natural soundtrack.

Mason Lewis wasn’t any of those things.

If I guessed my affinity, I’d go with… wood. Which either sounded boring or suggestive. Though if wood spoke to me, then the message it delivered was extremely specific. Maybe because I worked with wood often or because the jobs I did on the side had a magical component, the first time I rested my hand on a wooden piece, I could get a sense of its creation. Here in the reception area of the hotel, I rested my palm on the tall counter at the front desk and a clear sense of mass production filled my mind.

Heh, this place came across as rustic and woodsy, all the furniture resembling pieces someone could hypothetically craft with their own two hands. There were spacious, oversized wooden coffee tables, desks, and chairs, all polished until gleaming in dark browns. No woodworker in a secluded forest hideaway made any of it. I touched it and heard ‘assembly line’ loud and clear.

These were my idle thoughts as I waited for my guests. At this relatively early hour, the place still smelled strongly of wood polish with something fresh in the air too. An older couple leisurely made their way in, and the man checked in while the woman with him walked right over to me. Her honeysuckle perfume couldn’t be detected until she wrapped her arms around me in a hug.

Instead of saying hello, she greeted me with, “Aren’t you going to shave your beard?” A hand moved to pat my cheek and rub at the scruff there as if it could be scrubbed away with a little elbow grease. “The pictures from this event will be with us forever.”

“Good to see you too, Grandma,” I greeted, unable to keep the smile off my face as we separated.

~

quicksand, a black hole,magnets, and other stuff that pulls you in

Luke has a boyfriend and a fake girlfriend in One Little Lie. Which is sort of crazy, but what’s really crazy is thinking Luke is bisexual. That’s really insane and laughable. Except no one is laughing. Anyway, in this extended scene, Luke and Lydia are coming back from a fake date where they went to the fair with her family.

~

We were basically babysitters for Lydia’s younger siblings at the fair while her parents checked out all the religious singers that performed there, but the fair was the best place to be a babysitter because we got to ride all the rides we wanted and play the games and no one could judge us cause it was for the kids. Plus, her siblings were way better behaved than Lily and her friends.

The deep-fried Twinkie was glorious and kinda gross and after having the deep-fried Oreos too, l was okay with never eating anything else unnaturally fried for at least another year. All in all, it was a good day. I had some of the prizes the kids won in my car, so Lydia rode with me and I dropped her and the winnings off at their house. We stood near the edge of the driveway and she gave me a chaste kiss on the cheek while her parents looked on. They went in the house, but she lingered outside with me.

I thought I didn’t have to think about this stuff anymore now that I had a girl on my arm. Okay, maybe I didn’t want to think about it. It was like quicksand, a black hole, or magnets: something that pulls you in. I start thinking about it and then it’s hard to stop and I only end up with a headache and no answers. What was the point of putting myself through all that if I never seemed to get anywhere?

I leaned against my car next to her. Was I bi? “That would mean I liked guys and girls.”

She nodded. “You do.”

“I like Ryan and girls,” I pointed out.

“You want your boyfriend and also to be straight?” She raised one eyebrow.

“Is that not possible?” I asked without much hope.

“I guess it is,” she conceded. Hey, alright, that was—but then she kept talking. “But have you considered the possibility that’s not what this is?”

I sighed, gesturing for her to move over and she and I sat on my car.

All the homes on this block were small and quaint and some of the properties had their porchlights on, but it was after dark and the street was pretty dead. There was never anything to do in town after ten or so, but there was a breeze in the air and just sitting outside was kinda nice.

“You should talk to Zach,” I told her. I mostly got where she was coming from, but my parents weren’t religious like hers. My parents went to church, but faith was only one part of who they were.

“Um. I mean. I guess.” She frowned.

I’d had some bad ideas in my time, but this wasn’t one of them. “It’s just a suggestion. He might know more about the religious aspect than me,” I defended myself.

“It’s not a bad idea.” She gestured vaguely. “I just can’t actually picture how that would go.”

Yeah. They had stuff in common, and would probably have a lot to say, but I couldn’t imagine either of them biting the bullet and having an awkward talk about feelings. They’d both just stare at each other having a too-cool-to-care contest.

“Our parents aren’t the same religion anyway,” she said after moment.

“Does it matter? You’re as Muslim as he is and he’s as Christian as you are.”

She didn’t respond to that as she thought about something and I let her work out whatever it was.

Zach was third generation and his parents were devout privately. They believed in balancing their life here with their ethnicity and religion, that it was all parts of a whole instead of one over the other. They didn’t forget their faith but wanted to fit in here. They were doing a good job in that regard; their son was very acclimated.

“I’ve seen his parents before,” she said eventually. “At their store.”

“Oh, I didn’t know you shopped there. I could maybe get you a discount.” Oh, I wasn’t really supposed to tell anyone my family got a discount. As my parents liked to say, they were crowdfunding raising three boys between them, Zach’s parents, and Joey’s. When we were both 10, Zach started coming with us on summer trips to a lake house in the Ozarks. My grandparents owned it and our extended family shared it. After that, his parents said we might as well get the family discount.

“I used to go into their store when I was like 13,” Lydia told me. “It was my way of rebelling back then.”

“Your parents don’t want you shopping there?” Maybe they were Kroger people.

“Um. Muslims, you know?”

I shrugged. I didn’t really. Some people had a thing about it. Hey, why couldn’t sexuality be like that? The Ahmads occasionally dealt with assholes but didn’t like receiving sympathy for it and wanted to be treated normally. And I knew how to do that; I’d known Zach as long as I could remember. They were normal to me. It wasn’t like we pretended everything was fine, they just wanted to focus on other things. Why couldn’t people just treat me normally?

“They seem nice though,” Lydia said of Zach’s parents.

I laughed. It always shocked me when his parents welcomed me into the store before they realized it was me. Don’t get me wrong, they were totally nice. But I was like a member of the family, so I’d never pick my Monopoly piece first at their house. And Lydia’s parents were like a whole other level beyond his parents or mine. Like under their politeness and hospitality, there was just more politeness and hospitality.

The weight of things

Can someone go boy crazy if they are already crazy in general? I don’t know, but here is a deleted scene from One Little Problem. It is about a boy who may or may not be crazy thinking about his life and his relationship. There is some discussion of the shenanigans that occur in the book, but I don’t think you need to know about it to understand this scene. All you need to know is a boy wants to keep dating another boy, and he’s afraid he won’t be able to.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

~

Ryan

Scales were one of the worst inventions ever, right? Yeah, they provided helpful information: the weight of something. That probably had numerous real-world applications. There was nothing inherently evil about knowing how much something weighed, but there was just so much bad that came along with it. Because once you knew how much you weighed, you could feel terrible about that, you could make false promises to exercise, say the weight was going to come off tomorrow and then just perpetually hate yourself when it never did.

Or you could weigh a perfectly healthy amount but still want to weigh a few pounds less, and then criticize yourself for not being better. It felt like my life was a set of scales, and someone somewhere decided the weight on the good side and bad side had to even out for some dumb reason or that having a disproportionate amount on the bad side and a tiny amount on the good side was okay but not the other way around.

Yeah, I couldn’t believe I actually wanted to fake break up but maybe that would finally tip the scales, let me have more good than bad. Not this weird cosmic balancing act where things with Luke were good so things with our parents had to be bad. Things with Luke were good, so things with my dad had to be weird. Things with Luke were good, so it had to have an expiration date. I had to go away for the summer, and what if everything changed?

Oh, who am I kidding, things with Luke were good and that’s what I cared about, about having that for as long as possible. So, it was pretty easy to break up. We did it without fanfare, no public spectacle that usually went with the more important moments in our relationship. We were less obvious at school but most people either had gotten used to the gays being weird gay or tried to pay us as little attention as possible or just didn’t believe we would stay broken up.

The Three Amigos (and Ryan)

Baseball bros for life, Joey, Zach, and Luke have a conversation about solidarity, sex, and how stupid the current conversation they’re having is. Luke’s boyfriend Ryan observes the scene. This was almost a scene from Falling in Love and Other Bad Ideas.

For context, here is a two word description of each of these characters.

Joey: Dumb Jock
Zach: Cool Prick
Luke: Clueless Boy
Ryan: Very Awesome

This was like 75% of an idea, which I meant to find a place for but never did. Which means that when posting on the blog, this was a fun exercise where I needed to fill in certain spots even though I did not remember what my original intent or plan was.

~

Ryan

The kid hassling Zach or Joey, or Zach and Joey, must be a colossal idiot. Because if antagonizing Joey, it kinda looked like a fly buzzing around a cow’s ass, where eventually the big, dumb animal got tired of the buzzing sound and swatted the insect with its tail. Not sure if that was what happened, probably not because nobody had a tail. It seemed like someone tried to give Zach a hard time. A foolhardy task because vain divas who thought they were better than everyone generally did not give a single flip about the opinions of lesser beings. Still, random heckler did his best.

Seriously, I heard a few comments which boiled down to ‘eww, a gay!’ My guess about the reasons for these comments? Zach likely never received his quota of prejudice from small-minded high schoolers for being bi. He escaped some homophobia when he came out after Luke and wasn’t actively dating another guy, and the homophobes could not let a gay go un-insulted for being gay or god would cry. So heckler heckled, and Joey decided to respond.

“Grrr!” Joey said. Okay, I walked over after this part, so the words remained a mystery, but the general message and tone definitely meant ‘grrrrr.’ The person still didn’t want to quit, so Joey made a threat, then followed it up with, “Seriously. I will hurt you and then,” he gestured to Zach. “He’ll make fun of you, and it will be a really good time for us, but you’ll hate it.” I would buy tickets to that movie. “And Zach will take all credit, and then you’ll have gotten your ass kicked by a f—” a teacher walked close by. “Friend of mine.”

A little shaky at the end, but all in all, pretty supportive. Especially as he glared at the person who walked away and draped a friendly, protective arm around Zach’s shoulder. Which actually, considering what they were just talking about, looked a little gay, but no one said anything. And Zach looked too close to actually almost having feelings to warn him.

This aside wasn’t as random as it appeared, but Luke loved when I acted like a huge weirdo for some reason. I guess I understood because I loved when he covered his eyes during scary movies or acted like a huge dramatic baby. Like now! He turned on Joey, all indignant. “How come you’ve never defended me like that?

“Oh dude, come on.” Joey crossed his arms and rolled his eyes, which would not protect him from the dramatic baby.

“No, I’m your best friend too,” my boo insisted.

“Has anyone considered,” Zach offered quietly, “That having a discussion about who exactly is whom’s best friend forever and what any special BFF privileges would entail will, in fact, be the dumbest and gayest thing ever.”

Luke and Joey thought about that for a minute.. I gave Zach a dirty look for using ‘gay’ in a pejorative light, but he gestured to the two dummies lost in thought, which I translated to something like ‘I know my audience.’

The time for quiet contemplation had ended.

“I’m your best friend too!” Luke quietly hollered at Joey, which served to only make it more dramatic.

“I think we have to risk it, dude,” Joey told Zach, squeezing his arm one more time and then removing himself from the other’s close proximity. “I can’t say I would ever go after dick—”

“Good,” I interrupted. “Or else I’d owe Lydia $20 bucks.”

“But if someone doesn’t have similar compunctions,” Joey talked loudly over me.

“Compunctions?” Zach judged his word choice. “Dude, are you studying for the SATS or something?”

“How dare you. I’m just saying.” He raise a hand. “Here’s all the girls Zach could be with,” He raised the other hand. “Here’s all the guys. Put it together, it’s more potential action.” He brought his hands together with a clap, which hopefully did not mean anything because the clap was not a fun, sexy thing.

“I get action!” Luke defended.

“And if you want that action to continue,” I filled in smoothly.

“It is a private and special matter between Ryan and I,” he wisely finished with.

“Being with one person is stupid, playing the field is smart,” Zach said. “Have you never seen a 90’s movie, listened to a rap song, or talked to other human males before?”

“So it would be better if I was having lots of gay sex with different people?” Luke wondered.

“See, that you can’t even understand shows how bad it is,” Joey said seriously.

“This is the dumbest conversation we’ve ever had,” Zach told them both.

“Okay, I get that you wear glasses and want to seem smart in front of your nerdy gay friend,” Hey that meant me. I allowed the description because I enjoyed the idea of Zach trying to impress me. “But that is so not true,” Joey said. He apparently did not understand that glasses did not translate to IQ points.

“Yeah,” Luke agreed. “You’ve actually taken part in way dumber conversations than this.” And then they proceeded to list them with glee while Zach tried to walk away and they wouldn’t let him.

-the end, I guess, because the words stopped at this point.

Boys. Baseball. Bisexuality?

Luke is not gay, but his boyfriend is. Also, Luke does have a boyfriend. To make sense of his life, he seeks advice from his best friend. Zach is bi, but interests include having fun, baseball, himself, his hair, and avoiding serious discussions. So Luke corners him when the baseball team is on a bus for an away game. This is a deleted scene from One Little Lie.

Luke

My sister said she thought I was a boring straight guy once. I was certainly interesting now; my dilemma was multifaceted. I had no idea what I was. I didn’t think and maybe didn’t want to be gay, but what if I was? Things had never felt this good, this intense before. That’s what I thought about after leaving Ryan’s house.

Then there was the other part, which was maybe worse. Maybe things didn’t feel so intense and crazy and wonderful because Ryan was a guy. Maybe it felt that way because my feelings for Ryan were more than I’d ever had for anyone else, maybe it was lo-

Nope. No. Too scary.

I’m the good guy, I’d always been the good boyfriend. I held doors open, paid for dinner, tried to listen, bought flowers, all of it. I executed all the right moves on the outside, but it never felt like this on the inside. I’d said I love you before and I had thought I meant it at the time, but it didn’t feel like this. Real, intense. Consuming. Was I gay? Did it matter that I still liked girls?

I wasn’t the type to do awkward or self-doubting and now there was a lot of that in my life. Ryan and I were each other’s first boyfriends. Though he’d been on a few dates with Zach and had definitely been attracted to other guys. Maybe Ryan was special to me, but I wasn’t special to him. Huh.

What a not fun thought.

That was only one of the reasons I couldn’t share with Ryan when he offered last night. Mainly, I wanted to go into his house and do anything that involved being undressed and not talking. Also because I didn’t want all of my fond, serious thoughts to spill out. And also because… it just didn’t feel right unloading all this stuff on him.

Lydia had her own soul searching to go through, so I turned to Zach. The easiest way to get Zach to cooperate was to tell him exactly what you wanted and make it clear that you would leave him alone after you got it. This wasn’t baseball. No warm up. No beating around the bush. Direct.

When it was time for our next away game, I clapped him on the shoulder and sat down next to him on the bus. “Prepare yourself for a serious conversation,” I informed him.

“Thanks for the warning.” He moved to get up. “But you didn’t inform me in writing at least three days in advance so—”

“Okay, but I want to talk about BEING GAY AND QUEER SHIT,” I raised my voice. “Whoever sits next to me will have that to look forward to.” Suddenly there were no free seats for Zach. “Come on, we can do this quickly.”

He sat back down but complained, “I don’t want to hold your hand through this. Can’t you talk to your actual boyfriend about this?”

“I’ll tell him once I figure it out.” He did it on his own. Okay, this was what I was talking about earlier. The big reason I couldn’t let him help me. Not only did he figure it out on his own, my addition only made things more complicated. I opened my stupid big mouth and told people he was gay.

I didn’t really know him at the time. I didn’t know about being in the closet or outing people. It was an accident. I just… After that, I didn’t want to put this on him. I could do this myself.

Mostly. I told Zach, “I’m talking to you whether you like it or not.”

He idly glanced out the window, but I doubted he’d make a break for it. “Fine.”

“Fine.”

Deep, deep down he was really a good person. You just had to get through all the bullshit first. Zach liked to present himself a certain way and his family weren’t really the type to have serious, intense conversations. My parents freaking loved talking. I just didn’t think they’d want to listen to anything I had to say at the moment.

I didn’t say anything for a few moments. “So,” Zach said after a tense silence, “Are you gonna start talking then, or what?”

“Right, right.” Okay. I wanted this. “I bought some time. With the Lydia thing. But I still don’t know.” There.

He didn’t say anything. I just expressed my doubts in such an eloquent and articulate manner and he had nothing to say? “Okay, so this is supposed to be a conversation,” I explained.

“I’m aware,” Zach said cooly. That was all he said.

“It’s your turn to talk,” I prompted. Maybe I should jump out the window instead.

He shrugged. “I don’t know what you want me to say to that.”

Oh dear god. “Help me,” I ordered. Or maybe begged. “How do I even decide? It’s like a big decision. Straight or gay.”

“You’re acting like there’s no other options.” He rolled his eyes. “Like being bi, for instance.”

“Yeah, I guess.” I shrugged.

Zach said he liked guys and girls. That was an option, hypothetically. I couldn’t imagine it any more than I could being gay; maybe I liked it even less for some reason. It wasn’t that simple, was it? To just say, oh, I like both and there, problem solved. That was awfully convenient. How long could that last for? Wasn’t it just putting off the inevitable? I couldn’t decide if that’s what I wanted to do or not.

“Please don’t let this inflate your ego any more,” I told Zach, “But you make it look really easy.”

“I’ve known I was gay for a while now,” he said simply. He used gay and bi interchangeably sometimes, but how was I supposed to know if that was what he was doing this time? Then seeing that I was clearly about to ask if he was gay now, he added, “I’m still bi, but I don’t have a problem with either term.”

Gay had become something of a catch all term, but it didn’t feel like it to me. If I called myself gay out loud, that meant I liked men and men only. Zach didn’t agree. Not that there was anything wrong with it, obviously. It just wasn’t me.

Zach sighed and his tone wasn’t exactly gentler, but for him it was almost warm and fuzzy as he continued, “You suddenly found yourself in a… situation.” Instead of boyfriend, I would have to refer to Ryan as my situation later; he’d get a kick out of that. “It might take time to figure everything out.”

I thought about that. How much time did I get? Did I have to become gay after my transitional period was over? When should I expect my membership card in the mail and how did I go about returning it? Still, it wasn’t bad advice. This was new to me. I got a little time at least. All I could come up with to say in response was, “Wow, you sound so wise and rational.”

“I know,” Zach shuddered. “I don’t like it.”

Well, that didn’t really help. But I guess it was reassuring. I felt really dumb, but I hadn’t been dealing with this for that long, that was true. But Zach had known he was gay for a while now? “I don’t think I’ve seen you go after a guy besides Ryan,” I noted.

“Oh god, we are not talking about that,” he said firmly.

I sighed. This was probably as good as our conversation would get, so I deemed Zach’s best friend duties over with and reached into my backpack. “Hey, I brought snacks.”

Zach smiled. Now some of the guys looked jealous, which made his smile grow. Zach liked envy even more than dessert. Ryan made cookies for the road. We ate them all ourselves but shared with Joey too. Apparently, I owed him for always telling him things he didn’t want to know.

Shenanigans

Shenanigans are afoot in One Little Lie, and Ryan tries to figure out what he thinks about these antics and what he should tell his father. This is a different version than what appears in the book, with some extra content.

Ryan

Should I cut the old man some slack? At least he knew I had a boyfriend, unlike Luke’s family. Which was totally fine and I wasn’t bothered at all. I should probably be storming off or sitting down in a huff so we could sulkily watch TV together, but I got distracted thinking about Dad and Luke’s new scheme.

“Anything else?” Dad asked when I just stood there.

“It’s just—” I’d been tempted to run this whole thing by Dad, but I couldn’t when he was being like this. It’s not like he was being very accepting anyway and I didn’t want that to get worse. “Never mind.”

He eyed me keenly. “What is it?”

“I’m wondering if we should switch our home insurance provider.” I am so bad at lying on the fly. Isn’t that a skill all teenagers possess in their genes, like instinct?

Dad called me on the obvious and terrible diversion I tried to use. “You’re hiding something.”

“Should I get a tattoo?” I asked. That was better for distraction and if he said yes, I could get a tattoo. Too bad needles kinda scared me.

“No,” he responded instantly, then thought about my shifty behavior. “Is it about you and Luke?”

I grabbed the remote and hastily turned up the volume while telling my father to, “Leave the questioning to Stabler and Benson.” Then, like it just occurred to me, I said, “Hey, isn’t it time for them, anyway?”

“Stabler isn’t even on the show anymore,” he said while holding his hand out to me. I gave him the remote and he flipped channels.

Stabler was hot for an old guy and I heard he used to play a character who had forbidden gay relationships in prison. We should look into getting HBO. Before I could tell Dad that, he told me, “I don’t know what’s going on with you and Luke, but if you have to lie to me about it, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it.”

I left then instead of watching TV. It wasn’t like I could say, ‘hey, Dad, you know how Luke’s dating me and you’re already so super cool with that? He’s gonna pretend to date Lydia while he goes out with me.’ Yeah, I didn’t see that going well. Did that mean something or did Dad just not understand? He never had to come out.

No, everything was totally fine. I was totally fine.

I wasn’t fine. Acting like the chillest, awesomest boyfriend ever meant I was only on duty when Luke was around. So maybe I did freak out a tiny bit. Stupid Dad and his stupid words. The less said about that unpleasantness the better. And it wasn’t my finest moment, so I only want to focus on the parts where I’m super great instead.

Okay, fine, maybe the freak out went like this:

Luke pretending to date Lydia? How could that go wrong? Oh, only in a million ways. He could realize how hot she was and dump me. He could realize how easy dating a girl was in this town and dump me. He could see how easy dating anyone other than me was and dump me. Or worse, maybe he’d decide he was both bi and a stereotype and not dump me but instead date Lydia and me behind the other’s back.

Anything could happen. However unlikely it seemed, their fake dating could go so well that they decided to make it a reality. It didn’t sound so crazy since that’s what happened with Luke and me. Wait, no, our fake dating had gone terribly. Yet we still ended up together anyway. Aww.

I could handle this, right? And even if I couldn’t, did I have any right to complain? Luke went from zero to gay, or gayish, really fast. He had no adjustment period. I couldn’t ask him to speed things up on my behalf. Especially when we were already cruising at warp speed. Dammit, I should have talked to Mrs. Sharp about this. No, that would be insane. And this plan was what, perfectly logical and normal?

Okay, maybe I was still in the middle of my freak out when my cell phone vibrated on my desk.

Stuff that totally won’t go wrong

Do fake relationships ever happen in real life? Maybe! I mean… probably not, right? My guess would be no, but I’m the one who asked you the question, so I don’t have to have the answers.

And I’m talking, like, romcom pretend boyfriends scenarios only, where a successful professional has to go to their exes wedding but can’t get a date for zany reasons and must pretend to be in love with their sworn enemy. Less bearding because the world is terrible and more Hallmark movie plot stuff where everybody falls in love at the end.

The fake boyfriends trope is used in One Little Word. Then there’s a fake girlfriend and a real boyfriend in One Little Lie. So naturally for One Little Problem, it was time to switch it up. Fake break ups! Is that a thing? In real life or in fiction? Whatever.

Okay, so Ryan wants to pretend to break up because the natural answer when your parents don’t approve of your significant other is ‘lie about it.’ I think I started that sentence with sarcastic intent, but actually, that is so the logical answer. Especially if you’re a teenager and in a romcom, which is a yes to both for Ryan.

Ryan’s boyfriend Luke isn’t as sure about this plan. So this is him debating.

~

Luke

On the way home from the game, the last light from the day disappeared while the bus carrying the team headed back to school. Zach and I had a spot in the back while Joey sat across from us, asleep and stretched over his whole seat.

I thought about sleeping too until Zach spoke. “Maybe Ryan isn’t as bulletproof as you are these days.”

Huh, where had that come from? “He’s been handling haters way more than I have.”

“And maybe that’s taken a toll,” he suggested.

“But—”

“Doesn’t have to seem like it has.” He gave me an important look, like he would know. Guess he would, him and Ryan were the same way. Pretending like nothing bothered them, both much better at it than me. I was only good at it when untested. But it didn’t seem like that with Ryan as much because he let his guard down around me a lot more than Zach did.

“Maybe he just wants to enjoy being with you or something lame like that,” Zach said with a frown like just the thought of it was too sappy for him. “This could be a way to do that.”

“You think pretending to break up is a good idea?”

Zach shrugged. “No opinion, really. Might be entertaining.” I rolled my eyes. He continued. “But you might be focusing on the wrong thing. The method is breaking up, but the point is being together with less hassle.”

“So then why didn’t we do that before?”

“Might not have been able to handle it.” He sneered a little like he couldn’t help it as he said, “You guys seem totally disgusting now.”

“Thanks.” I grinned, totally unashamed.

“And pretty stable. Just, I think he means well with this suggestion? Maybe consider it? Yeah, you don’t care what anyone else thinks. Your parents will come around or they won’t. Nothing can hurt you. Maybe because you’re on the baseball team and you have a bunch of friends or you have both your parents alive but just because Ryan talks a good game, maybe it’s not as easy for him.”

Guess that was possible. Maybe I felt confident and like nothing could stop me because this whole coming out thing had sucked so much and I still survived it, but Ryan had come out a while ago. No been outed. By me. He hadn’t been ready for it either. Super annoying that Zach might have a point but just because Ryan had been dealing with haters for a while that didn’t mean it was the same when the haters in question were our parents.

I might understand that pretty well. I’d never not had my parents in my corner. Until now. Maybe it was worse for Ryan, because it was only him and his dad. This could be a really stupid idea, no it probably was, but I guess I didn’t blame him. Not getting along with your parent or parents on something so big was rough and if a little lying could change that…

I sat in my room by myself after I got home, staring at my phone. Here I was, sitting here considering it. Hadn’t done anything else once since I got home. Wasn’t really a breakup, but the idea still made me nervous. We’d talked about this once before and Ryan was so against it then. But that was back when I didn’t know I was bi and we wanted my parents off my back because they didn’t know I was bi either and now we all knew. Knowledge was power. I’d heard that before, so it must be true.

There was a knock on the door. “Do I need to come in there?” Lydia asked.

Zach told her? “You don’t think it’s a terrible idea?”

“I think I’m not having this conversation with a closed door… even though its probably about as smart as you.” Lydia never missed a chance to take a shot at me, which meant that she didn’t think this was the most terrible idea in the world or she wouldn’t have hesitated to tell me so.

“Go away, Lydia.”

I took a long, deep breath and leaned back in my chair. Idly glancing around my room, I realized my mom had been in here. She did that sometimes to get my laundry, but no, it was still there in the corner. She had definitely been in here though or my dad had. Some of the posters I had on my wall were gone. The ones that were just a baseball player like Manny Machado or Bryce Harper. Come on, Manny Machado wasn’t even attractive! He had a certain charm, I guess, but he was no Bryce Harper.

…I didn’t even realize Harper was hot until right now, but yeah, I wanted that posted back. And also the one I had of Chris Evans as Captain America, which, huh. Maybe I always found him hot and just didn’t know it.

Alright, I had to do my own laundry now and maybe get a lock so my parents couldn’t come in and try to de-gay everything. Maybe getting my parents off my back would make things easier not just for me but Ryan too and he was the one who wanted to do it.

Ryan had, like, 90 million thoughts bouncing around his head at any given time, so while he’s super smart, sometimes he doesn’t verbalize everything into words I understand, but it’s okay, because I’m learning how to read him. I didn’t like thinking about Ryan leaving for the summer. He probably didn’t either. And we couldn’t do anything about that, but there was this other problem and he wanted to fix it. So then, the him leaving thing would still suck but maybe suck less because we would get to spend more time together before the sucking part happened.

…I should not have thought of it like that. I wanted the sucking part to happen but the good sucking part, not the bad sucking part—you know what? I’m just going to call Ryan.

 

Scenes from a Baseball Game (Baseball not Included)

Luke is a high school baseball player. A great high school baseball player. Well, a pretty good one. He’s an excellent pitcher and batting… is also a thing he’s expected to do. He usually isn’t very good at the hitting part, but plot twist, he’s now amazing at batting.

What’s going on? He has no idea, but he’s not about to question it. If he had to speculate, maybe he has magic powers or is a secret superhero? Or maybe he’s feeling more confident after realizing he’s bi and coming out. It’s definitely one of those.

This is a scene from One Little Problem where Luke and some teammates discuss why he’s suddenly better at baseball. Some of this in the novel and some isn’t.

Luke

We had an away game, so there was no big cheering section for our team. Sometimes that made a difference, but not today. We were winning anyway. I’d been hitting and getting on base a lot more these days. I didn’t always hit home runs or anything, but this time I did. I was grinning before it even left the diamond, I just had a feeling it was out of here and then it was and I jogged around the bases, feeling amazing, like I could do anything. I was a baseball god. It felt good to take my victory lap, to have my team hollering in the background. I was done pitching, so I ended the game on a high note.

“Are you using performance enhancing drugs?” Joey Wilson asked as he patted me on the back when I got back to our dugout.

“Seriously?” Yeah, I had done well and he had struck out. Still. If anything, it was the other way around. He was bulkier and dumber and prone to punching walls when someone sniped him in Fortnite. He’d be first in line if somebody was testing for steroid usage.

“I’m not judging.” His face was wide and a tad confused, just like always. “I’m just saying, you have to share.”

I snorted. “Because you can keep a secret.”

“Oh my god,” he marveled. “Did you just admit it? Did you fall into my clever trap?”

“Your clever trap of asking a question?” I didn’t say so no to his question, but it was a dumb question.

Joey raised his chin definitely. “Don’t question the methods if they work.” His batting average was on the average to below average side while mine was definitely below average. Most of the time, we both lamented how much we sucked at batting together.

“No, I am not on steroids,” I told him, making it clear, which caused a few other people to look over at us. Yeah, I got that. Saying you weren’t on steroids was probably not something a lot of people who weren’t on steroids felt the need to say. “Even if I was, why would you need them?”

“My batting average isn’t great either,” Joey said. “If you bring yours up, I’ve gotta keep up.” His wasn’t great but when he did get a hit, it tended to be a big one. That gave him time to at least make it a base or two, if he didn’t outright knock it out of the park.

Wasn’t a bad problem to have from my viewpoint, either striking out or hitting a homer. For me, it typically more like striking out, striking out, striking out, striking out, and every so often getting a little bit lucky and hitting it. And then after that, if I got even more lucky, the hit actually meant I got on base.

This whole thing where I was suddenly good at every part of baseball? It rocked so hard.

I moved on from Joey and sat down next to Zach in the dugout. My grin came back.  Wait till I tell Ryan about this. Probably should tell him in private incase he had the bright idea to do something dumb and embarrassing like start cheering wherever we were or jump into my arms and kiss me on each cheek.

I wasn’t ashamed or anything, only in the way that I was dating a very embarrassing person. One who didn’t even realize he was being embarrassing until he did and then it was like he already started, so he might as well go all the way and really play it up because that way at least I would be more embarrassed than him. That meant he won or got to be less embarrassed because he could say it was all part of a plan to embarrass me or something.

I had finally gotten to the point where being with a guy didn’t embarrass me and now I was just the recommended normal amount of embarrassed around Ryan, the baseline that everyone who comes into contact with him exists at. And god, why was I freaking smiling just from thinking about what an awkward loser my boyfriend was? That’s the kind of thing I should be sad about, having to deal with such an embarrassing, awkward guy all the time. I was sad… My face just didn’t know it yet because I was still grinning.

It took me a moment to notice Zach was staring at me. Zach was more of the striking than striking out type. Both in life and on the field. He had sharp features and an effortless coolness, an Arab-American guy who always took care to look put together and fashionable, never had a hair out of place. Except for on the field but of course he made the dirty, sweaty athlete look work too somehow.

“How are you doing that?” Zach asked, nodding his head to indicate the field in the front of us. I shrugged, so he continued, “There’s got to be some explanation for why you’re suddenly good at hitting. Off the top of my head?” He feigned thinking about it before deciding on, “Black magic comes to mind.” Jerk. “Along with selling your soul or a cursed baseball bat that gives you magic homerun powers but takes away your manhood, poor Ryan—”

I frowned. “Wouldn’t everything you just said fall under the heading of black magic?”

“So, it is black magic?”

“No.” I shrugged. “It’s just not that hard.” For once in his life, maybe he would let something go. Probably not likely, but I could hope. Seemed like I was full of hope these days. Even with my parents and they were being super difficult.

“For you it is.” Nope, he wasn’t letting it go. Good thing I didn’t hope too hard. “You’re not allowed to be good at both pitching and hitting.” Jerk again.

“Why not? Because then I’d do better than you?”

“Obviously,” he replied without remorse. “Did you really think I’d have a different objection?” I was just going to assume Zach would be a jerk for the rest of this conversation, so I didn’t have to think it all the time, that would save me some time.

“I think you could use some competition,” I challenged. Zach snorted like it was outlandish to think we’d even be in the same league, let alone that I would be competition, even though we were literally in the same league and same team and school and town. “Maybe you’re gonna have to step up your game,” I continued. “And actually, oh, I don’t know, try.

Not for a second did I believe that Zach’s life was as effortless as he made it seem because I had been given a few peeks behind the curtain in all our years of friendship, but annoyingly, while not everything just naturally came easy to him, there was a lot that unfortunately did, which might be where he got his incredibly cocky attitude in the first place.

“Excuse me?” Zach scoffed in full on bitch mode. “How dare you imply that I would have to try or make anything remotely resembling an effort to best you, Luke Chambers.”

Man, the inning still wasn’t over yet. This actually was probably one of the better conversations I had with Zach, but I didn’t have anything to say to that and this would normally be the part where I floundered and said something dumb, but I was surprised and then glad to realize that I didn’t really care. If this conversation was about to not go my way, I could just stop having it.

“Whatever,” I said, watching the game.

Zach looked triumphant for a moment before realizing that I didn’t just say whatever because I had nothing else, I mean true, but I also really didn’t care. He waited but I didn’t say anything else. “Is that all?” he asked. He frowned a bit because he was a bastard who loved playing with his food before he went for the kill.

I laughed. “You got me there, man,” I admitted.

There were several things Zach needed me around for because he didn’t have the skill set or patience to do those things himself, but witty conversation wasn’t on that list. Had always been true but sometimes I wanted to get one over on him anyway and only in very rare cases did that work, so it just didn’t seem worth the effort of trying. I got a homerun this game and he didn’t, and I was on fire right now and nothing anyone said could change that.

Zach actually stared at me dumbfounded for a moment and just when I turned to really take that look in because it happened so rarely that he showed shock or confusion, he wiped it off his face. Rude. “Who are you?” he asked. “This might still qualify as black magic, I’m unclear, but we need to rule out possession. Are you possessed?”

I rolled my eyes. I really didn’t know how to put it in words, so I started with the obvious, “I’ve never liked hitting.” Wow, he really wanted to know my secret because he didn’t even make a get on with it gesture or look put out because I said something he already knew. “I pitch, why do I have to hit the ball too? It’s a totally different skillset and it seems like asking a lot from me. Plus, what if I get hurt up at the plate? Ball can come at you fast on the mound, but I don’t have to wear a helmet up there, and mostly, I just don’t like batting. Maybe it’s because I’ve never been very good at it, but there’s times when I just dread it.”

Hitting his limit for stating the obvious, Zach said, “Uh-huh, I’ve heard this from you before. About 900 times.”

I glared because he was the one who wanted a damn answer and after a mini standoff, he let me go on. Cool. Working through that all had actually helped, stating all my old objections and seeing that they were still more or less true. It’s not that I didn’t feel that way anymore but that stuff seemed farther away. Like it wasn’t in my head as much as it usually was.

“I get up there,” I said slowly as I pieced it together. “And I think about all that. How I’m not going to do good, how everyone’s going to see me not do good, to me uselessly wishing I could just pitch and not hit even though it does no good ever, and now I just… I don’t care.”

“You turned off your brain?” He couldn’t resist taking the easy shot. “On the one hand, how can that hurt when you barely use it anyway—”

“Ha ha—”

“—But on the other hand, you were already operating at dangerously low levels of cognitive function. I can’t imagine going any farther down is safe.”

Before this whole thing with me and Ryan? I liked giving the impression I didn’t care what other people thought. I did care though. I just knew how to downplay it. And it was easy to be confident when everything people said about you was good. But now? “What other people are going to think about me is like the furthest thing from my mind. Even farther away than not being a vain dickhead is for you.”

“Wow,” he said mildly. “That’s far.” He shook his head. “Still though, being unconcerned with mere mortals is my superpower, not yours. Get your own.”

I shrugged. “You’re gonna have to share.”

His brow furrowed. “I don’t sha—”

“Maybe you’ll learn.”

I had good looks, popularity, athletic ability. I was the guy everyone wanted to be and then the guy nobody in our town wanted to be, the gay one or whatever. And I had to go from fitting in and being basically worshipped to being gawked at, judged, found wanting. All while not actually being like Zach, who came out and treated every sneer and bad word directed his way like he treated everything else, background noise that could be ignored or paid attention to based on his whims, fodder for occasional amusement. All anyone looking from the outside would see was someone who seemed in complete control, someone who liked bad press about himself as much as good press because, hey, it was all attention.

Being the golden boy, I did have plenty of confidence, but I’d never had to maintain it while being ridiculed and watched by everyone. Never had to be pretend to be unbothered while everything changed. So I hadn’t really known what to do. Hadn’t really known who I was becoming. Seemed like anything could happen, I could turn into a freaking dragon. Instead, I was basically the same guy but with some new additions that had totally blindsided me. And then.

“School? Baseball? Other people? It all just seems,” I paused, watching our second baseman swing at a high curveball, how many times did I have to tell him to avoid those pitches? “I mean, what can any of it really do to me? Not much, not after surviving things with my parents.” I lowered my voice. “Sometimes, I don’t even know if I have a right to complain about that. It’s not as bad as what happened to Lydia. Hell, they took her in, so it kinda seemed like things might start to be okay, but things are still weird between us and the longer it goes on it’s like, maybe not. But still, maybe I should be grateful.”

“It’s okay if you’re not. You used to be really close to your parents. Even not much distance would feel like a lot in your situation.” As usual when he tried to have a serious moment or behaved like a normal human, the words were slightly stilted but sincere.

“Yeah. Well, I survived that or am surviving it. I survived everyone knowing this thing about me basically as soon as I knew, having so little time to process, so I don’t know. These days, everything seems pretty easy. Like at least for a while, I made it through the hard part.” I grinned at him. “I’m invincible now, dude.”

“Nice sentiment.” Then, his face turned serious “However, I feel like I should make this clear, you aren’t really—”

“It’s a metaphor, dude.” I was not literally invincible. I wouldn’t go darting into traffic or standing in front of an oncoming train.

Wow, that was twice in one conversation where Zach looked dumbfounded. “Oh my god,” he said.

“Um, did I use that wrong?” Really didn’t think so, but he kept looking at me funny.

“No, you used it correctly.” He looked at me like I was a pod person again. Asshole.

Yet I only smiled. “See? Everything is going my way.”

Then our turn to bat was over and Zach and some of the other guys made their way onto the field while I leaned back in the dugout and relaxed.

I’m invincible.

 

Cults and other weirdness

Do you ever get a weird song stuck in your head? If you are a human being, the answer is probably. And if the human being is me, then I have a song stuck in my head right now. I guess it’s just the subject matter that’s weird, because the song is oddly catchy. The subject is cults.

 

Speaking of weirdos, I write a series about a giant loser and his boyfriend. This is a cut part from One Little Lie where Ryan and Luke are hanging out in Ryan’s room being cute. They can’t be as on top of each other as they want to be because Ryan’s dad is home, they are teenagers, and Ryan’s father possibly owns a firearm. Okay, you are caught up.

~

Luke

“As much as I like your dad, you should probably open the door, so he doesn’t come back.”

“I don’t wanna get up.” Ryan groaned and buried his face in my chest. “Carry me.”

“Yeah, like that would work.”

Ryan was taller than me, though it was hard to tell when we were lying on the bed and he was clinging onto me like an octopus. I poked him in the side with a finger and he squirmed, so I did it again. He clung onto me tighter in retaliation, but I didn’t mind him being pressed up close to me in the first place, so I let him.

“Are you calling me fat?” he asked in a mock scandalized tone but didn’t pull away.

“I’m calling you a giant.” I wrapped my arms around him instead of pushing him away like I was supposed to. This wasn’t cuddling or something girly like that. It was just… a lying down hug. Okay, that didn’t sound any better.

He pulled his head back enough to glare. “You’re ruining the mood.”

“Think your dad did that,” I pointed out.

“Yeah, he’s good at that,” Ryan sighed before pulling away and getting up and opening the door.

“Too bad,” I continued. “I’m sure you were looking forward to doing that yourself.” Ryan was a smartass and could be kinda awkward, so he wasn’t the smoothest guy I’d ever dated. Well, no, he was, because he was the only guy I ever dated. Somehow, he made being weird seem attractive.

He came back and sat on the bed, hitting me in the stomach with a hand. “How dare you,” he protested. “I am romantic and sexy and errrrrotic.” He dragged the ‘r’ sound out while waggling his eyebrows at me.

Okay, sometimes he made being weird attractive and sometimes he was just weird. But still, it was cute coming from him. Even if I didn’t tell him that. “See that right there?” I asked smugly. “Ruining the mood.”

Flirting! Yay!

Luke probably came out in the wrong order. Because he didn’t even know he was bi until long after having a boyfriend and claiming to be gay. So yeah. In hindsight, knowing you like boys is an important step to do before a clumsy, spazzy guy stumbles into your life and makes you feel all confused. In his defense, Luke has played baseball all his life and been part of a team, so he knows how to follow instructions. But when there’s no rule book or steps to follow… that’s when things get messy.

But in One Little Problem, not only is Luke aware of his sexuality and his feelings for a particular dude, he’s comfortable with those things. Ryan, the aforementioned spaz who caught Luke’s attention, is very pleased by this development. Not everyone has reached the acceptance stage, like Luke’s parents, but let’s not worry about that now.

In this scene, Ryan and Luke are holding hands at school and then they flirt… yeah, that’s what happens. And you already know the relevant information, so okay. Here’s an outtake from the novel.

~

Ryan

“Should we stop holding hands?” I asked. We weren’t always so touchy-feely. Lately, it seemed like Luke didn’t mind, but I wanted to be sure.

Luke just shook his head. “Guess there has to be some downsides to having an awesome boyfriend. I don’t care what people say to me.” Then his expression turned serious. “But if anyone messes with you? Tell me and I’ll kick their asses.”

“Say that again but this time take off your shirt.” I crossed the fingers of the other hand that wasn’t holding Luke’s.  Come on early morning strip show… that would be pretty weird, but I still wanted to see it.

“Some downsides in addition to you, I mean.” He smiled like he was cute. He happened to be cute, but still.

“You’re sleeping on the couch tonight,” I informed him.

“We don’t live together.”

Maybe one day, my brain said, and I told it to shut up.

“Want to come over after school and pretend we do?” I waggled my eyebrows in a way experts would deem excessive. “We’ll play house.”

“Roleplay already?” he asked but didn’t say no.

Oh. “Do you have a French maid’s outfit?” I could get into that.

“Okay, I’m leaving now.” Luke gave me a quick peck on the lips and we went our separate ways.

Luke recently had an identity crisis of sorts. Hopefully not a midlife one because his lifespan needed to be much longer than that. More of the sexuality crisis kind. It took him a while to figure things out and it might not always have been the most fun, but I was a supportive boyfriend and stuff.

If there was any evidence to the contrary, then I didn’t remember it and didn’t want to be reminded, but Luke was on the other side of that now. He was cool and confident and awesome. Stronger.  Comfortable. Way hot. He was always that one, but in a new way.

He was here, he was queer, he was used to it.

If only everyone else could be used to it too.