This would be the last night he and I ever talked in any candid manner.
The last time we kissed.
The last time we held hands.
The last time I felt he loved me.
We’d sat at The Dish in Chelsea on 8th Avenue before walking south to The Chocolate Bar on Hudson Ave. He’d just finished telling me as he pushed his rubbery omelet around his plate how we’d be seeing less of each other after tonight for a whole variety of lovely, heart-warming reasons. The lessening was logically and compassionately presented, and I accepted the reasons with a bluster of maturity. I told him I was on board. I remained goddamned chipper.
But sleet deluged my soul.
Walking on the sidewalk, we’d tossed around pen names for their phonetic sounds, for their impact, for their originality, and for their meaning. He wasn’t terribly invested in the conversation. His attention ricocheted off the two thousand words he’d written that morning, bounced off the century-old brick townhouses we walked by, and skimmed past my focused face.
Finally he asked, “What kind of book are you writing?”
I shit in my briefs.
This was the first time he asked about the actual content of my book. I’d always gotten the impression he didn’t really give a fuck, or was too rampantly narcissistic to risk entertaining the idea that a dipstick like me could actually write. He’d always been The Author. The Smartest in the Room. The Fastest Thinker in the Crowd. The Loudest in the Din. And he loved the attention. And as I came to learn, in spite of his affectation of humility, he absolutely demanded it. From everyone. And as definitively as an apocalypse from me.
He was never confused. We talked of politics, literature, dancing, and drama, but nothing other than statements, proclamations, and conclusive platitudes emitted past his beautiful, rapid lips. The unspoken, unwritten contract of our friendship stipulated that he knew best. It was evidenced, of course, by him never asking me what I thought, and he rarely acknowledged valuing the thoughts I did managed to vocalize.
I was the dope who couldn’t recall names, facts, and numbers with the encyclopedic precision that he required in order to be impressed. I was the deer in the headlights who knew nothing about anything until he showed me. I was the one less compartmentalized in behavior and thought and therefore less in emotional control than he. I was the infant.
I knew that’s why the notion that I could write a book as he had secretly irked him. He was intelligent enough to swallow it, but I could feel the disdain - like I’d suddenly emitted an odor he found unpleasant but was too courteous to acknowledge. He was the Star. He was the Best Seller. He relished sitting alone on his literary throne. I could feel he felt he was the sole heir to a meritocratic kingdom of true talent, and underneath that jovial façade was a deep, jagged fission that took offense to a lesser like me who dared to trespass.
When I at last admitted I was writing “The Next,” for the first time he offered no advice. Though he regularly expounded volumes to substantiate his expertise in so very many fields, for the first time he volunteered nothing. The best pre-release marketing strategy? The pitfalls new authors should avoid? An offer to beta read “The Next” as I had beta read his first novel? The contact info to his publisher we had once dined together with at the tapas restaurant I recommended? Zip. For the first time since we first wrapped our arms around each other three years ago, he withheld.
“I cannot link my brand name to any other,” was his cover-up comment for saying and doing absolutely…god it hurt…nothing.
And yet, empirically, I knew he loved me. Deeply. He craved my honesty, my struggle, my need, my exuberance, my drive, my joy, my earnestness, my lunacy, my emotional immediacy, and most of all, my love for him. He held me in his pocket like a diamond – glittering, unique, complex, and invaluable, but too precious to him to share to the world. And I loved being held. More than anything we loved taking for granted that we had each other safely in our pockets near our cores. We both needed to be that enfolded. So, as I spoke about my possible pen name now that The Next was underway, I could feel his warring within: do the right thing and align with his friend’s optimism for his first foray into literature, or squash it with indifference.
“My brother says that what he’s read of The Next so far is dark, snarky, raw, romantic, sexy, outrageous, and weighty with pathos,” I answered.
“It’s you,” he said, eyeing me, “You’re all those things.”
I felt that rush to my penis as I always felt whenever he pried past his preoccupation with his own brilliance to pay attention to mine.
“We like the first name Rafe,” I said, “Right? Because it’s slightly ethnic without committing to any one in particular?”
He nodded. I could feel his brain was already searching for the first ramp off this highway.
“So what last name fits well with Rafe?” I asked.
He shrugged his shoulders.
It occurred to me I’d never seen him shrug his shoulders. I’d never seen him indifferent to anything. Ever. I always thought it wasn’t in his fucking constitution to be indifferent. All blanks were always filled with words - bolded, underscored, and italicized.
In that moment, as he shrugged his broad shoulders, I knew I’d not be seeing him any more. This would be the last real moment together. He was shrugging off more than my name. He was shrugging off my creative potential. He was shrugging off our secret grins from across the room. The most intimate kisses of my life. The warm wet arms around each other. He was shrugging off all the fragments of a future that might have reflected us scrambling eggs and frying bacon in the late mornings together.
He was shrugging off me.
He was emptying his pocket.
We hugged and parted on the corner of 23rd and 5th Avenue.
I walked away in a suppression of confusion, anger, sadness, and pain.
It would take a year, two novels, and an album of songs to recover.
But there’s one gift Life always presents to those who wish to remain in it: endings lead to beginnings. A new day had emerged inauspiciously beneath a thick, dark haze, and I now knew my pen name.
“The Beached Whale was awake and propped on her side as always, her pendulous breasts once again stretching down to the futon. Her eyes were fixed forward facing…
She’d placed the Little Old Man’s painting in front of her television, so, once again, Marzoli and I could only see the back of it. Her eyes were alternately full of…of sadness…of wonder…of hope…of regret…of revelation. Her expression was similar to that of the Little Old Man’s last one. Marzoli and I were transfixed by this woman who was outwardly positioned as most of America on any given moment, but whose emotional journey was stratospheric. Where was she going? Where did she dream of going?
The sun gleamed on the gold frame and blinded us for a split second.”
~ from The Next by Rafe Haze
THE NEXT BLURB:
Dubbed “the gay Rear Window,” The Next is a raw, snarky, no-holds-barred romantic suspense novel of a man stuck in his Manhattan apartment who thinks he’s identified a gruesome crime across the courtyard. It’s less a whodunit and more of a suspenseful how’s-he-gonna-get-‘em plot, slathered with a large, creamy dollop of romance. Unlike Rear Window, the protagonist in The Next isn’t bound to his apartment by a broken leg in a cast, but rather by a self-induced, torturous psychological handcuffing, and the novel, of course, chronicles his journey to this freedom as much as the capturing of the bogey. The second biggest difference is that The Next doesn’t shy away from the eroticism. At all. Hawt men abound. ;-)
Title: The Next
Release date: April 23, 2014
E-Book ISBN: 978-1-925031-96-6
Amazon Kindle: The Next
Nook - Barnes and Noble BN ID: 2940149377060
Wilde City Press: www.wildecity.com
Category: Gay Mainstream
Sub-Genre: Romance, Romantic Suspense, Contemporary, Erotic, Mystery/Suspense, Thriller/Crime
Length: 83,600 words (novel)
Formats available: E-book, Kindle, Nook, & Print (available soon)
Main characters: Narrator (first person), Sergeant Marzoli
RAFE HAZE BIO:
Rafe Haze was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and lives on the west side of New York City. Having worked for the legal compliance industry, fashion industry, music industry, art industry, and flesh industry (the most interesting people on earth have), his most life-changing employment was teaching Meisner Technique of Acting. He wrote himself out of one whopping funk with his debut novel The Next, and is ecstatically thankful for the entire, messy, beautiful cadence.
Rafe refuses to be handcuffed to one discipline only: he writes classical music for orchestra and small ensemble, country music songs, musical theater, plays, screenplays, and digs two-stepping, line dancing, and West Coast Swinging. Be it words, notes, or movement, the emotional origin, schlep, and endpoints are equally compelling and satisfying.
Rafe is grateful to his twin brother (the straight one) who continues to make the slicing through this rambling, thorny life worthwhile.
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