(Probably) $200 raised for charity on “A Little Too Broken” in October!

Posted in Uncategorized on October 31, 2014 by BradVance

ALTBStickerHard to say yet.  That’s based on my for sure cash royalties, plus a guesstimate that the KU/KOLL borrow payout will be $1.50 per borrow.  That’s the lowest number folks have seen this year, but we really have NO IDEA until about the 15th of next month what it’ll be… Bezos the Barbarian has yet to crush all his enemies, see them driven before him, and hear the lamentation of their women, so I’m assuming he’s still interested in motivating authors to abandon all other platforms for the ‘zon.  It’s been as high as $1.80, so it could in the end be more than $200.

At any rate, my ARE quarterly payout will come in around then, at which time I’ll push the donations out :)  Not doing it right this minute because I need the cash in hand because…I’M ON VACATION WHOO NEW YORK CITY!!!  No posts till Tuesday, sorry I know I left you all cliffhanging with Dex :)  But as always I guarantee you won’t be disappointed when our story continues…

In the meantime, here’s one more Francesco-as-Rocky pic I picked up at Depositphotos…

Male Model

The Angel of Biloxi…

Posted in Uncategorized on October 30, 2014 by BradVance

Country Music Man

Here it is…the epic scene…  I had to rearrange a bit of the landscape in Biloxi to get this scene to work, but the lighthouse did, indeed, survive.

 

Their senior year passed like the wind.  Dex broke up with Laycee in January of ’05.  She’d started calling him “my boyfriend” around school, and his buddies had stopped ragging him about boning her on the sly, and he could feel it – the world, closing in on him, the expectation that he’d settle down, “go steady.”

And what would that lead to, he thought glumly, other than me getting drunk one night and fucking her without a rubber, or the rubber breaking, and there it is, a baby, and the next twenty years of my life set in stone.

He knew the pattern.  He’d hang out with Alex on Saturdays, get baked, play music, and talk, about everything in the world other than what was maybe the most important thing in his life.  Then he’d go out with Laycee.  Alex had to know, didn’t he, Dex thought.  That I can only fuck her after I’m with him.  So close to him I can practically fucking taste him…

Some days, getting on the Internet, especially with all this gay marriage stuff in the wind, he couldn’t avoid seeing certain pictures.  Pictures of gay couples, happy, smiling, handsome, together.  And they filled him with…rage.  Blinding rage.  Not because they were sinning, but because they were happy, because they had what he could never have.  Love and happiness wasn’t the natural state of Man.  Aching, terrible loneliness was.  How dare they.  How dare they defy that, how dare they remind him over and over that nobody else knew that truth but him…

He graduated high school, and got offered a full time job at the seafood warehouse.  39.5 hours a week.  He took it.  Then he went to bed for two days.

August rolled around.  Alex had been accepted to UGA, and was on his way to Athens, Georgia on a full scholarship to Hodgson School of Music.  Dex was going nowhere.

As he walked to Alex’s house for the last time, the day his friend was leaving for school, Dex realized that he’d made a mistake, hanging out exclusively with Alex.  Especially as a musician – he could have formed a band, could have…

Yeah, right, he thought.  With a bunch of flakes and slackers and deadbeats who’d skip practice or fuck around or whatever.  Alex was dependable, consistent, helpful, forgiving…

I love him.

The admission swept over him now, now that it was too late to do anything about it.  He stopped in his tracks.  The words had formed on their own, had been formed in the back of his head all along, he knew.  He hadn’t asked for them.  Didn’t want them.  They were like a truck that hit you in the intersection, even though you had the right of way.  Or thought you did, anyway.

He looked up at Alex’s house, the big old house that needed a paint job it would never get from the Carrolls, who probably didn’t even notice that it was needed.  He knew every poster on every wall, every musical instrument in every corner, every one of Mrs. Carroll’s special meals and even specialer desserts.  He knew every record in Mr. Carroll’s collection, every anecdote about the famous musicians he’d played with before giving it all up to teach.  He knew the moments of perfect silence in the house, the two beats before he and Alex started to play, together.  Moments of silence that only a power failure might – might – have brought in his own house.

They said some big storm was coming, a hurricane.  You could feel it, too, the change in the air.  Something dark and cold and mean.

 I hope it comes, he thought angrily.  I hope it wipes this whole fucking town off the face of the earth.  And me with it.

“Dex!” Mrs. Carroll said, surprised.  She had a big and clearly heavy box in her hands.  “What are you doing here?  You should be helping your parents get ready.”

“For what?”  He took the steps two at a time and took the box from her.

“The Hurricane!  Katrina!  It’s coming this way.”  She ran back inside and emerged with yet another heavy box.  “They’re about to issue an evacuation order for the whole Gulf Coast.”

“It’s just a storm. They said it didn’t do much in Florida…”

Alex came out, struggling with several instrument cases.  “Dude.  Seriously, this is major shit.  You gotta go home and get packed up.”  The wind was picking up, blowing his hair around wildly.

“I…”  This wasn’t what he wanted at all.  Not what he expected.  Alex packing up for his trip to school, yeah, but not the entire house being emptied of its most precious items.

Somehow he’d thought he’d have one last quiet minute alone with Alex.  One minute in which anything could happen, even a kiss he could regret, repudiate, later.  But that minute was gone.

Alex put his cases down and hugged his friend. “Hey, UGA isn’t that far.  And I’ll be home for Thanksgiving, man.  Go home and get shit done, get ready for this thing.”

Suddenly he embraced Dex, startling him.  “I love you,” Alex said, his face buried in Dex’s chest.  “I’ll always love you.”

It wasn’t brotherly love, either, Dex knew immediately.  The admission, the affection, was so startling that it went right around his defenses.  He started crying, just…blubbering.

It was there, plain as day in Alex’s voice.  Alex, too, had hoped for that minute.  Had hoped it could make up for all this time.  All this lost time, all this lost love, for what?  In exchange for what?  A shit job and a shit life, forever and ever amen?

“I love you too.  I love you so much.”  He started to sob.  “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry…”

Somehow Alex’s mother had made herself scarce.  It was only the two of them, on the front yard, holding each other tight.

“Come to Georgia.  Just…move there and be with me.  I’m in student housing, but you can get a job and an apartment and…”

“Yeah,” Dex nodded.  “Yeah, fuck it.  I’m gonna do it.”  He laughed, wildly.  “Fuck it!”

Alex laughed too, lifted his head, his own tears apparent.  “Fucking kiss me, you dumbass.”

He did.  He cradled Alex’s head in his big hands, and met his eyes, and didn’t close his own as he leaned in and finally, finally, finally touched someone he loved.

“Alex,” his mom said gently.  “We have to go.”

He nodded, pulled back, wiped his own tears away.  “I’ll see you soon.”

“Yeah,” Dex agreed.  “You will.”

“Dex, go home, get your family out of here,” Mrs. Carroll said.  “This is going to be bad.  Very very bad, do you hear me?”

He saw the look on her face, and knew it wasn’t just a storm.  “Yes, ma’am.”

 

When he got home, the front door wouldn’t shut without Dex putting his weight behind it, the winds were getting that bad.

“What are y’all doin’?” Dex shouted when he saw the other kids playing in the living room.  “Why aren’t you packin’?  There’s a goddamn hurricane coming.”

“Jus’ a storm,” Mike mumbled from the La-Z-Boy.  “No big deal.”

“Dad.  You’re watching the TV now, and they’re issuing an evacuation order.  Right there, in front of you.”

“Yeah, shit.  I keep changin’ channels and that’s all I get, damn it.”

“Fuck,” Dex sighed.  “Kaleb!  Carrie!  Charlene!  Pack your shit up!  We gotta go!”

“That’s what I told him,” his mom said, carrying a basket of laundry.  “We gotta go to the shelter they got set up.”

“Shelter’s full up,” Mike said.  “See, I’m payin’ attention.”

Dex moved almost as fast as the wind outside.  He grabbed his father by the front of his shirt and lifted him out of the chair.  “You fucking dumbass, you’re gonna kill us all.  Now get the fuck upstairs and pack your god…damn…suitcase.”

That was when the power went out.  Mike looked at his son, half drunk as always, blinking.  “Okay, okay.  Jesus, you don’t know your own strength,” he mumbled as he went upstairs.

He got the kids to pack their backpacks full of food, after threatening to spank Carrie.  “Take the goddamn Barbies out and put in there what I tol’ you put.”

She burst into tears.  “Mommy!”

“Dex…” his mother said softly.  “Honey, you better come look at this.”

Dex ran downstairs to the living room window.  “Oh, shit.”

In the short time he’d been home, the street had flooded.  He couldn’t even see the sidewalks over the rippling waves of water.  A minivan stacked with belongings was stalled out in the middle of the street, its occupants frantically throwing their possessions into the flood, so they could get on top of the van and out of the rapidly rising water.

“Get upstairs.  Everyone upstairs.  In the bathroom.  The inside bathroom, not the master bathroom.”  He grabbed a jacket from the peg by the door.

“Dex, where are you going?”

“To get help.”

 

He was soaking wet before he got ten feet from the door.  Only his big strong legs kept the wind from knocking him over.

He had to get to the coast.  There would be people there, first responders, someone, who could help them.  He moved along the street, hugging the fronts of houses for the tiniest bit of windbreak.  An animal was swept down the street, swimming frantically for its life.  He couldn’t stop, couldn’t help it.

He heard the wrenching groan even over the howling wind.  He ducked as something huge flew over his head.  Not that ducking would have helped if it had landed on him, since it was a whole roof.  He watched, awestruck as it sailed out of sight, as if it was as light as a kite that had broken off its string.

He saw something he couldn’t believe as he got nearer to the shore.  An apartment building, with people still in it.  Some fucking dumbass on a balcony trying to take pictures.

He waved his arms, shouted, senselessly, futilely.  Nobody could see or hear him.

In school, they’d seen a movie about the A-bomb tests in Nevada.  They’d built fake towns so they could measure the power of the blast.  The black-and-white footage showed the whole town blown down like a house of cards.  Everyone in class had shouted like it was a video game.  “Cool!  Awesome!”

That was what happened to the apartment building.  He screamed, he knew they screamed, but it was just like the bomb, the whole thing just…started to fold flat.  Cheap construction, probably.  Certainly never meant to withstand this.

He couldn’t help them.  They were all dead.  He had to move.

He got to the shore line.  There was nobody.  Everyone had run.  The tide was slamming boats into buildings.  There was one van, with a weatherman standing outside like a fucking idiot, bracing himself against a pole, knee deep in water now.  The cameraman was filming from inside the van, clearly having more sense.

“Get out!  Get the fuck out of here!” Dex yelled at him.

Then the wind snapped the antenna off the top of the van.  “Get in,” the guy said.  “We’ll give you a ride.”

That was when Dex heard the screams.  There was a two-story gazebo by the waterfront, headquarters for a tourist boat company, a gazebo that was slowly, methodically disassembling itself.  A family of four was waving at him from the doorway.

“We gotta help these people!”

“Fuck that,” the weather man said.  Then he paused, shocked at himself.  “Here.”  He took off his rain slicker.  “At least take this.  Good luck.”  He jumped in the van as it tore away.

Dex put the black slicker on, trying to hold the hood over his head as he pushed towards them.

“Thank God,” the woman cried out from the doorway.  “Oh thank you.” She and her husband were in their sixties, at least, and the kids must be their grandkids, Dex thought.  “We don’t know what to do.”

Dex looked around and saw it.  “Over there.  The lighthouse.  We gotta get to the lighthouse.”

“But that thing weighs a ton!” The man exclaimed.  “That comes down on us, we’re dead!”

“It’s not coming down.”  He remembered something he’d seen one day, hanging out with Alex and watching Discovery or something good to watch when you were stoned.  About how square buildings were more vulnerable to high winds, how round buildings parted the winds, something sciency anyway, he couldn’t remember the details.  And he knew it was made of cast iron, too.  It wasn’t going anywhere.  Unless everything went.  In which case, it wouldn’t matter where they ran.

He picked the kids up, carrying one under each arm.  They never would have made it otherwise.  The water was rising, and rising.  It was only a short way across the road to the lighthouse, but it seemed like a million miles.

The small decorative fence around it was torn away, and the door was unlocked, mercifully.  Dex herded his charges inside.

A falling brick made the little girl scream.  The inside of the lighthouse was lined with them, and the force of the storm was shaking them loose.

“It’s falling apart!” the old man shouted.

“No, it ain’t.”  The center of the lighthouse was a metal spiral staircase.  “Get under these stairs.  And don’t move.  Right?”  He made eye contact with the woman, who was in shock but nowhere near the degree her husband was.

She nodded.  “Where are you going?”

“I…I have to get home.”

“God protect you,” she whispered. “God save you.  Thank you.”

Dex nodded.  “Stay here.”

 

He was only a few feet away from the lighthouse when a huge pane of glass sailed straight over his head, still in its window frame.  It was like something out of one of the Surrealist paintings that Alex had shown him in a book.  Then it exploded against the ground.

He turned around and went back to the lighthouse.  The wind was terrifying; it was getting even faster, too.  He was scared now, so scared.  Another minute out here and he’d be swept away.

The family was huddled under the stairs, crying, folded together like one of those families frozen in time in Pompeii, buried under the ash, nowhere to go, no way to get away from the apocalypse.  Dex sat on the steps of the staircase, his face hooded in the black raincoat, and he prayed.  That was all that was left to do.

“God, please save me.  Please don’t let me die here.  I swear I’ll…I won’t waste it, I won’t waste this life.  I’ll make something of my music, my life.  Please, please, don’t let me die now.”

 

He must have passed out from exhaustion at some point.  He woke up to silence.  The storm had finally passed.  He opened the door to a cloudy sky, and the end of the world.

Everything was gone, all the way up the shoreline to the casinos.  How they were still standing was beyond him.

Later he had time to reflect on it.  You heard these stories, you couldn’t believe them.  Crazy-ass generals who stood up in a firefight, bullets whizzing everywhere like popcorn popping, and they never got a scratch.  Tornados that devastated an entire town, except for that one house, in the middle of it all, untouched as if it had been under a force field.

But they were true.  If they were God’s work or incredibly dumb luck, it didn’t matter, did it?  He had survived the hurricane.

He looked back at the family.  They were asleep too, and he left them there.  They’d find their way out.  Now he had to get home to his family.  If he still had a home.  Or a family.

At that thought, he began to run.

Dex is getting bigger! 30K and counting

Posted in Uncategorized on October 29, 2014 by BradVance

And I’m still in backstory.  This one will definitely weigh in as my longest novel.  I’ll have one more GIANT excerpt for you by Friday, before I head to New Yawk City for some well deserved R&R!

KU is working so far so good…and OMG A NEW PERFECT ROCKY PIC!

Posted in Uncategorized on October 28, 2014 by BradVance

Male Model outdoorsOF COURSE it’s F. Cura!  I don’t know how I missed this the first go-round.  The dude’s still an active photographer, but he hasn’t posted pix of himself since 2012…some day I’m gonna run out of “fresh to me” Francesco pics, and then what will I do?  His other models are hot, but never as HAWT as F himself.

This one is just perfect, of course, given Rocky’s religious background.  I’m thinking, since I wrote the scene with the John Hiatt song, that the working title of this book might be “A Little Faith.”  It sounds good to me.

So the KU/KOLL borrow scheme is working out for me, so far.  I’m getting more reviews, and a good # of borrows.  As you can see, it hasn’t dented my sales, so far, but then they are obviously so low that statistically, what’s the diff :)  It’s a little odd not knowing how much you’ll make per borrow till 15 days or so after the month is over, but I’m told the brief history so far has been $1.80 – $1.50 per borrow.  The royalty you see is the $$$ for sales, so maybe about $400 for the month.  But the total borrows so far is 245, so even at $1.50 that = $360 or thereabouts, for just 12 days…

Yeah, I know, some day Lord Bezos will Rule the Galaxy, all other ebook sites will be out of business, and the Amazon payments will drop to like maybe a nickel a book.  But not yet :)

SoFarSoGood

“I Can’t Be Gay…”

Posted in Uncategorized on October 28, 2014 by BradVance

Sexy CowboyPoor Dex… And it only gets worse soon, with Hurricane Katrina on its way to Biloxi…

 

Dex was flat out on his bed that Sunday morning, staring at the ceiling.  He was dressed for church, and just killing time now till his Mom was ready to go.

He looked around the room, thinking about the posters he’d put up on his wall since meeting Alex.  Only posted because they were pictures of guitarists, sure, inspiration, but they were all guys, weren’t they?  No supermodels up there.  And they were all good looking guys.  And why did he have that poster of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, huh?  Because none of them had shirts on?

“I can’t be gay,” he said out loud, but barely, mouthing the words with even less force than he mustered for singing.  Four words that had so many meanings.  He couldn’t be gay, because it wasn’t allowed, he’d be despised by everyone he ever knew.  He couldn’t be gay, because real gays are flamers, queens, that guy Jack on “Will and Grace.”

He hadn’t gone to Alex’s house yesterday, after his early morning shift at the warehouse.  For weeks now, he’d been getting off at 11 and meeting Alex for breakfast.  He snorted to himself, his dark sense of humor still with him – how gay was that, fucking brunch?

Yesterday he just…didn’t show up.  Didn’t call and cancel.  Couldn’t face his friend, and couldn’t face telling him he couldn’t face him.  Couldn’t stand to lie, and couldn’t stand to tell the truth.

Sexual feelings weren’t new to him, of course.  He’d been masturbating like a pro for years now.  He got a raging boner, and he took care of it.  The feeling itself was so good, and the boners so automatic, that they didn’t need any stimulation to come, so to speak.

He thought about a day a few weeks ago when he’d hung out with his old friends, one of whom had just gotten a fast Internet connection, not like the dial-up the rest of them were still stuck with.   They’d immediately gone to some porno site, where they couldn’t see much without a credit card, but there were enough little clips for free to give you the idea of what lay behind the paywall.

Sure, he’d gone home and jerked off afterwards.  But was it to the women he’d seen onscreen, or to the looks on his friends’ faces, the loose slack faces of young men in lust?  Had he spent more time looking at them looking at women than he’d spent looking at the screen himself?  He hadn’t thought about it at the time, had just…run home and serviced himself.  When the others asked him if he’d jerked off, he’d said “Hell, yeah!” with all the enthusiasm he could muster, and even got in on the jokes as they high-fived each other, as he said, “I just jerked off with that hand aha hahaha!” and everyone freaked out.

But he wasn’t gay.  He’d just proven it.  Right?

Laycee had been after him for a year now.  She flaunted herself in the halls, rubbed up against him as he passed, and even managed to get her locker assigned near his this year – he didn’t wanna think about how she’d done that.  She’d made a project of “gettin’ him,” and failure was not an option.

Dex had always tried to be real nice to her; he hadn’t yet discovered that being real nice could only encourage someone.  He was…put off by her forward ways.  Repulsed would be too strong a word, but there was something about her wanton sexuality that seemed just…wrong to him.

But in a blind haze, he’d called her at last yesterday, and asked her if she wanted to go out that night.  His mom was so thrilled he was going out with a girl at last that she let him borrow the car.

It didn’t take long for them to skip dinner, and the movie, and park in the woods and have at it.  Dex was so aflame he probably could have fucked a sheep at that point, and only once did the image of Alex enter his mind.  That was when he’d put the condom on, of course, and just as the attempt was making him soft, the memory of him and Alex talking about sex ed brought the face, the body, the eyes, the heat of Alex into his mind, and suddenly he was hard as a rock again…

She seemed a little disappointed that he used a rubber, Dex could tell.  But there was no way he was putting his baby batter in a girl.  No, the odds against him leaving this town were bad enough, without him getting stuck with a kid.  Then he’d never, ever leave.

Dex was no fool.  As he lay there on the bed, he knew what would have happened without the thought of Alex.  He would have gotten soft and looked into his date’s blurry, expectant eyes, and made his apologies.  It was Alex he’d gotten hard for.

But he’d lost his virginity, to a girl!  That made him straight, right?  No matter what he had to think about to accomplish that.  Right?

He heard his mother shouting downstairs.  “Come on, Mike, dammit.  You never go anymore.”

“Hell no I don’t go,” his father shouted back.  “It’s fuckin’ football season.”

“Football ain’t on till noon for a reason, you know.”

“You want me to miss the pregame show?”

“DEX!  Let’s go!”

Dex rolled off the bed, looked in the mirror, adjusted his tie, and clamped his Dallas Cowboys ball cap on his head.  He’d have to take it off at church, but he was damned if he’d take it off before then.  Just because he didn’t want to play football didn’t mean he didn’t love watching it.

He had to laugh.  What kinda queer would be a Dallas Cowboys fan, right?

 

They had a special guest speaker at church that day.  Pastor Neil Panko was a leading force in the movement against gay marriage…oh wait.  He wasn’t against anything.  No, he was “for traditional marriage.”  Smile, smile, happy face.  The verbiage about how gays were “hellbent on destroying marriage” was reserved for the pre-election flyers sent out from faceless groups with Orwellian names like “Family Research Council” or “National Organization for Marriage,” that put out frenzied EMERGENCY ALERTS about what the gays were up to now, at the end of which they asked, “Won’t you please consider making a generous donation of $35, $50, $100, $500 or even $1,000 if God has given you the means to help NOM elect marriage champions?”

Karl Rove had engineered the upcoming 2004 election to be a referendum not on George W. Bush, not on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, not on the stumbling economy, but on gay marriage.  If you could get enough Christians to the polls to vote on constitutional amendments against gay marriage, well, of course they’d also vote for W.

In Mississippi, Amendment 1 was on the ballot this year.  “Marriage may take place and may be valid under the laws of this state only between a man and a woman.”  And Pastor Panko was beating the drum around the state to make sure it not only passed, but passed overwhelmingly – to “send a message.”

Dex was at church today, as he was so rarely anymore since he’d met Alex.  He was here because he thought it would help.  If God could take away these thoughts…just…take them away, well then, He surely existed no matter what Alex said.

The Pastor was a good-looking man.  So many preachers were so buttoned-up, so…waxy.  Their faces were tight and shiny and yeah, Alex was right, they had “Devo hair” – so much hairspray on their perfectly parted coifs that it looked like a plastic shell on their head, a life-size Ken Doll wig.

But Pastor Neil was different.  He was athletic, lean, a little bit of five o’clock shadow already accenting his jaw.  He had an animal energy as he left the pulpit, taking the microphone with him, leaving the stage and walking among the people.  His dark eyes shone brightly, and he often ran his hands through his dark hair to keep it out of his eyes.  He kind of looked like Alex, Dex thought, if Alex would ever be caught dead in slacks and a tie.

“Now there are so many people out there who say this is all about hate.  Well, it’s not.”  He shook his head to a chorus of ‘amens’ from the usually quiet parishioners.  “It’s not.  If you love something, and you defend it, that doesn’t have to mean you hate the people who are attacking it.  No!  And I’ll tell you something.  I don’t hate the gays.  I don’t want to change them.”

He was coming down the aisle towards Dex now, and their eyes met.  Dex’s body responded to the heat in his eyes.  “I love them and I forgive them.  And you know what?” he asked Dex directly, standing only a few feet away.  “I don’t think you choose to be gay.”

The crowd murmured, shocked.

“I don’t.  I think maybe you’re born that way.  But some people are also born with murderous rage in their hearts, too, but they don’t go kill anyone.  Some people are born with a thirst for liquor, a genetic predisposition to it.  But they don’t drink.”

“Yes!” the crowd said, behind him now.

“But you can control it.  You can refuse it.”  His eyes bored into Dex’s, as if seeing everything Dex had ever thought, ever wanted.  “You can’t pray away the gay.  But you can pray away the urge to sin.”

“Amen!”

Pastor Neil walked away, and Dex shivered with the shock of it.  The man’s eyes had said it plain as day – I know you, because I’m just like you.

 

He waited till the crowd receded before he went up to Pastor Neil.  “Thank you for that,” he said, extending his hand.

Pastor Neil smiled, knowingly, not taking his hand.  “You’re welcome, son.  Did that help you some?”

Dex dropped his hand.  “Yeah.  I think so.”

“You can fight this,” Pastor Neil whispered.  “I’ve fought it, and I’ve won.  Now see,” he smiled, “I would love to shake your hand, young man, or put a consoling hand on your shoulder, but I know what that would do to me.  So I avoid it.  That’s the way you control it.”

“I screwed a girl last night,” Dex blurted for no reason he could fathom.

Neil smiled.  “That’s good.  If you can do that, that’s good.  You’re gonna…” He looked around, made sure nobody was in earshot.  “You’re gonna have lust in your heart for men,” he whispered.  “But you can fight it.  If you can redirect it, that’s good.  Get married, son, have kids.  Hell,” he laughed, scratching the back of his head.  “I don’t know anyone with a couple of kids who hasn’t given up on sex anyway.”

Dex laughed, thinking about how many years it had probably been since his own parents had done it.

In the car on the way home, he was surprised to realize that his sense of blissful relief was short-lived.  All he could think about was trying to shake Pastor Neil’s hand, and being rebuffed.  This, the idea that he’d never even touch a man again…it filled him with a profound sadness and sense of loss he couldn’t even describe.

“Let me out here,” he blurted.

“What?  What for?”

“I forgot, I told Alex I’d come by.”  He got out of the car and nearly ran to his friend’s house.

Alex opened the door, surprised.  “Hey.”  He didn’t ask Dex about Saturday.  Didn’t need to, Dex could see.

“I gotta talk to you.”

“Sure.  Come on upstairs.”

In Alex’s room, Dex took the desk chair for the first time, instead of taking his usual place on the floor, against the bed, next to Alex.

“I’m not gay.”

“Okay,” Alex said, a neutral statement, designed to encourage Dex to go on.  His parents had taught him that, of course, not the school system.

“And I wanna be your friend.  But…nothing gay, okay?”

“Sure.  Friends.”  Alex stuck his hand out.

Dex hesitated.  But he couldn’t do it, couldn’t go as far as Pastor Panko.  Couldn’t retreat into a shell that thick, that cold.

He took his friend’s hand.  “Best friends.  Forever.”

“Yes,” Alex said simply.

Dex Makes a New Friend

Posted in Uncategorized on October 27, 2014 by BradVance

Country Music Man

And not a minute too soon, the poor guy…

 

At lunchtime, Dex often sat alone in the cafeteria, reading.  Just as he’d learned to conceal Guitar World in a textbook when he was in class, now he concealed a novel inside Guitar World in the cafeteria.  Reading, as everyone knew, was gay.  And even if someone had passing interest in what he was reading, the question was always, “What class you readin’ that for?”

He could feel someone standing behind him, looking over his shoulder.  He turned his head, ready to glare away any smart remarks, his height and mass coming in more than handy at times like this.

The guy behind him was slim, short, and his dark hair flopped over one eye.  The other was bright and alert behind a pair of cheap black glasses, the kind you got on Medicaid – not hopelessly lame, but not fancy, either.  Somehow, though, they worked on this guy.

“Hey.”

“Hey,” Dex said back.

“That the Da Vinci Code?”

“Yeah.  You can see that good?”

“Nah.  But I saw the red dust jacket over the back of your magazine.  My mom’s reading it, too.  It’s all bullshit, you know.  He ripped it off from another book.”

Dex shrugged.  “It’s just a novel.”

“Reading is gay, you know,” he said with a smirk.

Dex laughed.  “Everyone says so.”

“That’s how you catch it, you see.”

“Right.  You go gay from reading.”

He sat down next to Dex, offered his hand.  “I’m Alex, Alex Carroll.”

“Dex Dexter,” he said, flinching.  He was painfully aware that his mother had been a huge “Dynasty” fan and had named him after her favorite character.  It made him feel like white trash when people heard his name, their eyes glinting with mockery.  But Alex seemed oblivious to the reference.

“Dex and Alex,” Alex mused.  “See, we already sound like gay lovers.”

“Only if you read books, too.”

Alex bowed his head.  “Guilty as charged, Your Honor.”

“So how come I don’t know you?  You just transfer or something?  You don’t sound like you’re from around here.”  Alex’s accent was American Broadcaster, with no Southern inflections.

“Yeah, I’m from Michigan,” Alex said.  “But you know, two people in the same school can still be in different worlds.  I’m sure you’re on the football team, and I’m a music nerd, so that…”

Dex perked up.  “Music?  You play?”

“Yeah.  Violin, some piano.  Gay gay gay.”

Dex laughed.  “Guitar here.  Manly shit.  Not on the football team.”

Alex raised an eyebrow, and slathered on a pitch-perfect accent.  “You ain’t on the football team?  Big ole boy like you?  What the fuck is wrong with you, son?”

“Yeah, that about covers it.  It’s not that I don’t wanna get hit,” he said with a shrug.  “I’d live with a broken bone or two.”  He wagged his fingers.  “But I wouldn’t risk these.”

Alex nodded.  “Yeah, when I get the shit beat out of me, I’m the same way.  Just keep away from my hands, man.”

Dex’s nostrils flared.  “Who’s beating the shit out of you?”

Alex shrugged his slim shoulders.  “Who knows?  Fucking rednecks who see me walking home carrying a violin case.”

Dex felt a familiar anger, that urge to beat the shit out of someone that he felt when he hit the punching bag, but also an unfamiliar sensation – the urge to protect Alex.

“So we should jam,” Alex said.  “You any good on guitar?”

“Am I any good?”  Dex gave Alex a shit-eating grin.  “Son, you’re gonna get schooled.”

 

Dex’s grin stayed on his face all through his shift at work.  “What you so happy ‘bout?” Cleve pried.  “You get laid or something?”

“Yeah, Cleve, that’s the only thing would ever make a man smile around here, ain’t it?”

Cleve looked at him, wondering if that was sarcasm, but he wasn’t bright enough to be sure.

He ran home, his book bag bouncing against his back.  Mom and Dad were both at work, and Carrie had been left “in charge” of Charlene and Kaleb.  All three of them were glued to “American Idol” when he got home, and he was more than glad to leave them that way.

“Don’t start no trouble while I’m gone.”

“Where you goin’?” Carrie asked, her eyes not leaving the TV.

“Out.  And don’t give them no sugar tonight.”

He grabbed his guitar and ran out, then realized he’d forgotten his picks, and his tuner.  His excitement was making him crazy, but Alex was the first person he’d met who was serious about music.

Alex lived in an old, shabby house, but inside was another story.  The furniture was worn but funky, with a red velvet “fainting couch” in the living room, a pair of green easy chairs, and holy crap, so many bookcases.  There was no TV in sight.

The walls were covered with posters from concerts – every kind of concert.  Rock concerts, classic old Nashville posters that Dex recognized as Hatch Show Prints, a poster from the Salzburg Mozart Festival…

“Wow,” Dex said.

Alex nodded.  “My mom and dad are music teachers.  We’ve been to a lot of shows, obviously.”

“Damn…”

“Come on down to the basement, that’s where the studio is.”

“Studio?  No shit.  Wow.”

Alex laughed.  “You sound like you’re in hog heaven.  Just wait till we get downstairs.”

Dex really was in heaven then.  Now he saw why so little money had been spent on the thrift store furniture – it had all been invested down here.  There was a dazzling array of equipment whose uses Dex could only guess at, and the basement had been neatly divided into two rooms.  A window looked from the mixing room into the studio itself, where he could see drums, a keyboard, and…

“Oh shit.  Is that a…”

Alex put a hand on Dex’s shoulder.  “Yes, sir.  A Gibson J-45.  Gifted to my dad by Donovan.  John Lennon used that guitar to write some of the songs on the White Album.”

“No way.”

Alex took it off the stand where it had pride of place in the studio.  “Here.  Try it out.”

“Oh, no, no way.”

Alex pressed it against Dex’s midsection.  “It’s meant to be played.  You won’t break it.  Unless you do a Pete Townsend or something and smash it.”

Dex put his hands on the instrument.  His skin prickled with the excitement that comes from physical contact with a piece of history.  John Lennon put his hands on this, right where I’m putting mine, right now…  He could hardly believe it.

“What kind of pick you like?”  Alex said, fishing around in a bowl full.

“Thin.  Thinnest you got.”

“Excellent choice, sir.”

Dex hesitated.  What could he play that he wouldn’t embarrass himself, what could he play that wouldn’t…dishonor the instrument?  Because the biggest part of that thrill of contact with history?  Is the knowledge that you’re a part of it now.  That someday someone might say, John Lennon and Dex Dexter both played that guitar.

He didn’t know why he picked the song he did, but it just…felt right.  He launched into “Norwegian Wood,” whispering the lyrics as he always did, still not trusting his voice.

Alex picked up a violin and joined in.  Dex could see it, suddenly, how perfect the song was for that instrument – maybe for any instrument.  His fingers hesitated, as he tried to get in the same groove as Alex.

Alex lifted the bow.  “Don’t overthink it.  You’re leading the dance.”

Dex nodded, started over from the beginning.  He fell into the music, his nerves settling as he focused on playing.  Alex matched him note for note, playing softly, letting Dex concentrate on his own performance.

Dex finished the song, and looked up at Alex.  His new friend’s eyes were glowing with exuberance, and Dex smiled, knowing his own face looked the same way.

“Fuckin’ A,” Dex said.  “That was the greatest moment of my life.”

Alex nodded.  “Why’d you pick that song?  Just curious, I just wouldn’t expect, I mean no offense but…”

Dex laughed.  “Yeah, I know.  Not exactly shit-kickin’ music, right?  I don’t know.”  He frowned.  “I just felt…it just…”  He shook his head.  “It was like I heard someone playing it, in my head.  Far away.  But not far.”  He laughed.  “Some fucking bullshit anyway.  Hey, I bet you can’t play ‘Devil Went Down to Georgia’ on that thing.”

“Oh yeah?  Listen and learn.”

 

Day after day, they huddled like conspirators in Alex’s bedroom, listening to music.  Alex’s parents often had private students downstairs in the afternoons, to supplement their meager incomes from teaching music in the school system.

“Your parents are cool,” Dex said wistfully one day.  It was true – Alex’s dad, Alex Sr. was a whip-thin man with keen blue eyes behind rimless glasses, but his smile belied the otherwise stern look on his face.  Alex’s mom was always smiling, because, shockingly, she always had something to be happy about.  She was happy it was fall, she was happy Alex had a new friend, she was happy they liked her pumpkin pie.

Alex smiled.  “It’s adolescent blasphemy to say it, but yeah.  They are cool.”

“I’m jealous.  My parents are…ah, shit.  It’s a jungle at my house.”

“Here,” Alex said, pulling an Altoids tin out of his desk.  “You need to get stoned.”

Dex blinked.  “But your mom and dad are downstairs…”

“It’s Friday.  My homework is done.  Time to relax.  You think they won’t be lighting up later, too?”

Dex laughed.  “I’ve never smoked pot before.”

“And you call yourself a musician.”  He pulled out Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.  “It’s so trite, but really, there’s a reason this is the stoner’s favorite album.”

Dex could see the appeal of weed immediately.  Time was slowed down, so that you had all the time you needed to walk around the notes of the music, walk inside them, see them like a 3D mobile, stirring in the breeze.  Alex’s parents hadn’t grudged the price on his stereo system, either, so the notes rang clear and cool.

He and Alex sat on the floor, their backs against the side of the bed, and Dex just let his mind wander.  Alex had posters of people Dex had never heard of, jazz musicians and classical violinists and shit like that.

“Your house is like…on a different planet.”

Alex nodded.  “In Biloxi?  Yeah.  This is totally a portal to another universe.”  Alex sighed.  “I can’t wait to go to college.  Get the fuck out of here.  I mean, I’ll miss you.  But that’s it.”

Dex felt his stomach drop.  Shit.  He’d totally forgotten that they were juniors in high school.  That this wouldn’t last.  Alex would go away, and he would stay.  Forever, probably.

“The only guys I know who get out of here go in the military.  And now that’s a one way ticket to fucking Iraq, or Afghanistan.”

“You’re smart.  You get good grades.  Don’t you?”

“Well, yeah.  If I’m interested in the class.  If it’s like science, biology…I get really sick when I have to dissect something.”

Alex giggled.  “Omigod I can see it.  A big old horse like you, fainting at the sight of a worm’s insides.”

Dex fake punched his friend’s shoulder.  “Fuck you.  I can cut up a worm.  Just not a frog.  And you know, you can’t really…you can’t answer a lot of questions in class.”

“You can’t?  I do all the time.”

“Yeah, but you’re a nerd.  No offense.  People expect you to know the answers.  If I do it, it’s gay.  Guys will rag on me.  Studying is even gayer than reading.”

“I almost got an F this semester.”

“What!”

“In Sex Ed.  You know how you’re supposed to write a paragraph on ‘why I’m saving myself for marriage’?  Well, I did.”

“And?”

“Uhh…let’s just say it didn’t go over well.  That class is so much religious bullshit it’s not even funny.”

“You don’t believe in God?”

“Hell, no.  So to speak.  You?”

“Well, yeah.  Of course.” Dex was befuddled by Alex’s atheism.  “I mean, how could we have music without God, don’t you feel like you’re, you know, touching God when you play?”

“No.  I feel like I’m touching humanity.  But come on, you know that abstinence education is bullshit, right?”

“Oh hell yeah.  Kids around here are gettin’ knocked up left and right.”

“And that’s all about control, you know?”  Alex’s arms flailed now, waving the joint around as he got into it.  “What they want, see, they don’t want to stop you having sex.  They just want to see you punished for having sex.  I mean, they need you to have sex without condoms, so you get STDs or get some girl pregnant.  So they can make you repent.  It’s…the whole system is all about sinning.  You can have the sin, as long as you’re punished.  The system needs you to sin, so that it can continually re-exert control over you through the punishment.  If you get laid, and use a condom, and nothing bad happens, then there’s no punishment!  You had fun, disobeying them, and nothing bad happened!  What could be worse!”

“Huh.  I never thought about it like that.”  Alex was so smart, he thought.  So…self assured.  His small little body had so much righteous anger in it, like a V8 engine had been put in a little VW.  He watched Alex’s face in profile, the set of his jaw, the way his mouth moved, his hair flopping over one eye with that new, whatdyacallit, Emo hairdo.  He was so handsome, really.

He blinked.  Whoa.  Was I just checking out a guy?  No.  No, I’m just stoned and tripping.

“So,” he said hesitantly, “what did you write in your abstinence paper thing that pissed them off.”

Alex laughed. “Oh, that.  Yeah, I said that I wasn’t really sure yet, but I might like guys, and if I saved myself for marriage, well in that case I’d never have sex, because gays can’t get married.”  He bent over laughing.  “You should have seen the look on Mrs. Parsons’ face when she handed me back the paper.”

Dex felt something strange, unfamiliar – an excited dread, a thrilling terror.  He’d walked home from school with Alex, laughing, joking, putting him in a headlock or just throwing his arm around his shoulder, just buddies, messin’ around.  Now suddenly every physical contact he’d had with Alex took on new meaning.  Did he…did he get excited when I touched him?

Dex recoiled from the idea.  Somewhere deep inside himself, he was recoiling not from Alex’s gayness, or even his own, but from the primal terror of becoming the outcast.  What if people knew Alex was gay?  What would they say if they saw me…touching him?  They’ll think I’m gay, too.

“Are…are you gay?”

Alex hesitated.  Dex had asked the question to the wall, not looking at him.  “I don’t know.  Maybe.  Don’t knock it till you tried it, right?”

“It’s a sin.”

Alex sighed.  “What isn’t?”

Dex turned to look at his friend, to see his face full on, to see…to see what he wanted to see, didn’t want to see.

And it was there.  Alex was looking at him with this open, plain, intense gaze that said, yeah.  I would, with you.

All Dex had to do was lean in.  Put his lips on Alex’s soft, sensitive mouth.  Then he really would be in another universe.

Then the hammer came down in his head.  GAY.  Then he’d be GAY.  He’d lose his friends and his family and his life, he’d have to trade in all his clothes for a neon green Speedo and spend the rest of his life gyrating wildly on top of a parade float.  He’d have to talk like those queers on that new show, “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” that his mom and his sister Cassie loved to watch.  Yeah, they watched, and they laughed, at the flamboyant queens who camped it up to entertain people like them.  People who’d burn ‘em at the stake as soon as look at ‘em if they weren’t dancing and singing for your entertainment.

“I gotta go.”  He jumped up, grabbed his baseball hat and clamped it low over his face.  “I’ll see you around.”

Outside, his stomach knotted in pain.  What had he done?  What had he said?  “I’ll see you around,” as if Alex wasn’t his best friend, as if he wasn’t going to see him tomorrow, the next day, every day.

I can’t.  It was that simple, and that complex, and that clear and that painful.  I can’t.

But I can’t lose Alex!  I can’t lose my only real friend.  That hit him like a truck.  He had buddies, guys he’d grown up with, hung out with, shot the shit with.  But they didn’t play music, they didn’t read, they didn’t think, they…didn’t move him like Alex, either.  They were safe.  Yeah, because they’re fucking boring idiots.

Something he’d heard once came to his rescue.  “It’s a phase, you’ll grow out of it.”  Alex hadn’t said he was gay, had he?  He’d said don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.  That was just the marijuana loosening his gears for a minute.

That wasn’t so bad.  He could live with that.  He could stand by his friend till he grew out of this phase.

His whole body loosened up as the stress left it, a huge sigh of relief expelling it.  I can’t lose him.

He let a small voice whisper it, around a corner where he could pretend not to hear it.

I need him.

I Found Dex! And Deep Thoughts on Music…

Posted in Uncategorized on October 24, 2014 by BradVance

Country Music ManLook what I found on Deposit Photos!  This is definitely Dex Dexter…

I’m getting more comfortable writing the musical sections of Rocky and Dex’s stories.  I don’t play an instrument, but I’m seeing that, even though as the quote says, “writing about music is like dancing about architecture,” there are enough parallels to make it possible.  I watched a fairly interesting short documentary yesterday on David Bowie, and as I watched his session musicians show how songs like “China Girl” or “Fame” developed in the studio, I thought, wow, that’s insanely creative, to improvise like that, to just take a theme and spin it into something new.  How do they do that!

Smiling CowboyBut then, isn’t that what I do?  Take a theme in M/M romance like “football player” or “military guy” or “rock star,” and spin it, turn it into something more, take those paper-doll tropes and put some meat on their bones?  Improvise, create on the fly?  Every morning I’m either working on an outline, or executing the outline.  But some mornings, improvisation kicks in, the narrative flies in a direction the outline could never have anticipated.  And I find myself deleting paragraph after paragraph of outline, nope nope, that’s wrong now.  Suddenly a character or a relationship is changed.  I know I do it, I plan for it, really – in my outlines I sometimes write a note that just says, “insert snappy dialogue here,” with the confidence in my abilities that, come time for it, I’ll snap just fine, and I do, because that’s what I do :)

Sexy CowboySo yeah, I don’t play an instrument, I can’t get in the head of a musician precisely.  But I understand the creative process, and that’s really what you’re writing about.  Even if you were a musician, you wouldn’t write for a general audience about “plectrums” or “sweep arpeggios” when describing a performance.  You’d have to translate it into something about how it feels to play it or hear it.

And, after a few false starts over the years, I’m seriously prepping to try and learn to play guitar again. (Yeah, there’s a lot of hesitation in that sentence.)  It’s harder to restart something you’ve failed at than to start something new, of course – you have that “failure baggage” hanging over your head.  The last thing I want to do is try again, and fail again – and I failed not because I’m not “good enough,” but because I didn’t stick with it.  My failure wasn’t technical, it was mental.  But I’m thinking maybe now I can do it.  It’s weird – for me to do it, there has to be no pressure, nothing to spoil the fun, it can’t feel like a job or a school assignment.  But there also has to be some commitment, so it’s not something half-ass, where I just bang on it randomly when I “feel like it,” like Dex’s drunken dad.  It has to be like work or school in that there has to be a schedule of some kind, a plan of some sort.

Music, after all, would be a creative outlet where the only thing I have to do is enjoy it.  Writing has the burden of being “the only thing that might ever make me truly solvent,” so there’s always the financial pressure behind my compulsive hourly sales-checking and blog-traffic measurement and Facebook likes on my promo posts.  Music could be something that’s just for me…

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