Best Gay Romance 2015 edited by Felice Picano
Series: Best Gay Romance
Paperback: 244 pages
Publisher: Cleis Press (February 17, 2015)
Reader, I Married Him
Gay romance is coming into full bloom in the wake of DOMA’s fall and the spread of marriage equality across the land. New series editor Felice Picano has rounded up the luminaries of gay fiction for their takes on the promises of new love and the surprises of long-term relationships. Known for changing the landscape of gay literature, Picano reveals himself at his finest when it comes to the subject of love and sex. The stories in this volume range from the gritty to the fantastic, from the sweet and dreamy to sidewalk hard, with tales of missed connections, fantasies of vengeance and even a coolly sexy cowboy yarn. Tom Baker’s “Jury Duty” brings new meaning to the concept of jury tampering when deliberating over a case goes from ho-hum to a thrilling undercover romance. Two cowboys find a Brokeback love for each other while in pursuit along the Rio Grande in Dale Chase’s “Matters of the Heart.” In a meet cute for our times, Jay Mandal’s “To Dye For” follows two former classmates who bump into each other, and discover they like exactly the same thing—men! In Best Gay Romance 2015, Felice Picano gathers a sweepingly romantic collection of short fiction that is long on love.
“A leading light in the gay literary world.” —Library Journal
“Think of Picano as a queer literary renaissance man.” —Richard Labonté
Cleis Press is offering 1 print copy giveaway to one commenter on this blog (US addresses only).
To Dye For
By: Jay Mandal
Definitely dyed. But cute, nevertheless. I’d always liked blonds, even bottle blonds. “Hi. Can I buy you a drink?”
The look. Assessing. Is this some homicidal maniac or, worse, a bore? The smile. I’d passed the test. “Bacardi Breezer, please.”
I got the drinks, and brought them over to the table. “Trevor,” I said.
“I haven’t seen you here before.”
“D’you come here often, then?”
We laughed at our attempts at conversation.
“I like your hair,” I told him.
“It’s all right. I know it’s not natural.”
“Don’t I know you from somewhere? Got it! The King Edward the Sixth Grammar School.”
“You went there, too?” I asked.
“No. You got off the bus I used to get on.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t remem—”
“That’s okay. You were a sixth-former. I’d just started at Bash Street School.” He meant Bashir Street High. “My friend Sarah Smithers had a crush on you all year.”
“How about you?”
“I was a late developer. I was thirteen before I fell in love with Callum Hayward.”
“Callum Hayward? Wasn’t he expelled for bullying?”
“Yes. I was into masochism at the time. Knocked that on the head I’m pleased to say. I used to think you were sooo lucky.”
“Because you went to an all-boys school.”
“We didn’t have any time for flirting. The teachers kept us hard at it.”
“That’s not a double entendre, is it?” Sam asked.
I grinned back. “Wasn’t supposed to be.”
“So come on: who did you have a crush on? There must have been someone.”
“Oddly enough, most of the other boys were straight.”
“Shame! Still, that means some weren’t. What about those?”
“I was too terrified to talk to them. I was afraid of guilt by association. I pursued a straight looking and straight-acting policy.”
“So what are you doing here?”
“I’m out now. How about you?”
“Guess! Not that I ever had much choice. I always stuck out a mile. So what’s a straight boy like you want with a gay guy like me?”
“Straight-looking,” I corrected.
“Well, you’re obviously no longer afraid of guilt by association, but would you introduce me to your parents?”
“Oh, Sam, this is so sudden!” I lisped.
“You owe me another Bacardi Breezer for that.”
“You want me to get you drunk?”
“Drunk, sober…can anyone tell the difference?”
I got to my feet.
“Where are you going?”
“To get you another drink.”
“I was joking.”
“So was I.” I sat down again. “What would you like to do this evening, then?”
“I suppose mad, passionate sex is out of the question?”
“Anyone particular in mind?”
“Nah… The crowd in here tonight’s pretty naff.”
“It is, isn’t it?”
Sam grinned. “Besides, I don’t. Not on a first date.”
“Who said this was a first date?”
“You mean it would be okay?” He looked thoughtful.
“I don’t know. Do you believe in love at first sight?”
“Oh, Trevor, this is so sudden!”
“I’ve always liked blonds.”
“What if I ran out of peroxide, though? Imagine: you go to bed one night with the love of your life, and the next morning you wake up next to your worst nightmare.”
“Why do you dye your hair?” I asked.
“Well, you know what they say.”
“Blonds have more fun?”
He sighed. “You’re the first person to speak to me all evening.”
“Is that good or bad?”
“Is that a trick question?”
“Wasn’t supposed to be,” I said again. “So is it my dazzling repartee that’s getting you down?”
“It’s not you—it’s me. What word inevitably precedes ‘blond’? I’ll tell you. The D-word. Dumb. Dizzy. Dippy. Maybe even ditzy, if I knew what it meant.”
“But–” I stopped.
“I thought that was part of it. Why you wanted to be a blond. You dye your hair to match your personality.”
“Dumb, you mean?”
“No. Bubbly. Fun. Outgoing.”
“And that’s what you want?”
“You said you liked blonds,” he reminded me.
“I must remember never to speak the truth again. It can get you into all sorts of trouble.”
“What was your previous boyfriend like?”
I thought about Alec. Definitely not blond or with any of the word’s associations. “He was dark.”
“How long were you together?”
“So it was serious?”
Sam looked at me over the top of his glass. “You’re on the rebound, aren’t you? Just my luck. I find someone—”
“Someone,” he said, refusing to be drawn, “and he’s unavailable.”
“We split up two years ago.”
“But I’m the first—”
“No,” I said, just as firmly.
“You’re a serial dater, then. Or you’re still carrying a torch for him. Or you can’t handle commitment.”
“I think that’s covered every possibility.”
“Sorry if I sounded rude. There was a bit of a contretemps at work today.”
“A contretemps, eh?”
“Mmm. It’s made me more jaundiced than usual. Do I mean jaundiced?”
“I know what you mean.”
“It’ll be all right as long as I cut down on the carrots.”
“If I tell you about my love life, will you tell me about your bad day at the office?”
“Only if you want to tell me. I don’t mean to pry.”
It was my turn to sigh. “It was very serious between Alec and me. Too serious. We were dragging each other down. All the fun had gone. Each of us knew what the other was going to say. It had become boring. We both wanted out, but neither of us was brave enough to say so. Until one day when we were talking about holidays. Alec had brought home a pile of brochures for me to look at. ‘Why don’t we go skiing this year?’ I said. ‘But we always go to the Greek Islands,’ he objected. ‘So let’s do something different.’ You’d have thought I’d suggested running naked through the town center. ‘I thought you liked beach holidays.’ I said I did. Then he said this wasn’t really about holidays, was it? And that’s when it all came out. All the pent-up feelings and resentments. It finished with us deciding not only that we didn’t want to go on holiday with each other, but also that we
didn’t want to continue living together. Alec was in tears, and I was pretty close.
“So we divided up our possessions, went back to our respective parents while the flat was being sold and then eventually each of us moved into his own place. It was very civilized and very painful.” I stopped. For a while, neither of us spoke.
Then Sam said, “I’m sorry.”
“Thanks. I’m over it now.” I took a sip of my Coke.
“Puts my love life in perspective.”
“Nothing much. Just a trail of boyfriends. Lots of broken hearts, or so I thought at the time, but in retrospect I don’t think I’ve really missed any of them very much. Oh no!”
“I sound like a commitment-phobe. Or a perfectionist.”
“Not if they broke your heart.”
“I broke a few hearts along the way, too.”
“I’m sure you did.” I finished off my drink.
“Can I get you another?” Sam asked.
“Please.” I watched as he wiggled over to the bar. He looked good in jeans. “Nice—of you to get the drinks,” I said when he returned, although I had been about to comment on his rear end.
He must have guessed, as he said, “People say it’s my best asset—give or take a couple of letters.”
We grinned at each other.
“What’s yours?” he asked.
I raised my glass. “I haven’t finished this one yet. My best asset? A physical attribute or a mental one?”
“Both,” he said promptly. “But let’s do the physical one first. So much more interesting.”
I whispered in his ear.
“God!” he said, his eyes wide. Then they narrowed in suspicion.
“How d’you know?”
“It’s only an estimate. But I’ve been told it’s…unusual.”
“Let’s just say I’ve had it on good authority.”
“Is that another double entendre?”
“Don’t you think he might have had an axe to grind?”
“I’m sure he did.”
“Or maybe he was just flattering you.”
“There’ve been others. It was commented on at school.”
“By the boys?”
“And the teachers.”
He spluttered into his drink. “The teachers? You were having an affair with one of the teachers?”
“Of course not. I just overheard them talking about it one day.”
“How does something like that come up in the conversation?”
I leered at him.
“I’ll rephrase that. Why on earth were they even talking about your appendage?”
“Well, I’d always taken a towel into the showers with me, even though most of the others hadn’t bothered since they were fourteen or so. There was this one boy, Marcus, who delighted in annoying everyone. On this particular day, it was my turn to bear the brunt of his wit. ‘What are you hiding, Price? There’s no need to be shy—we’ve all got one.’ ‘Come on, then, Price, let’s see what you’ve got.’ I clung on to my towel. I can be very stubborn when I want to be. So he turned his attention to Robert.
“Robert was a much easier target. Even the teachers picked on him. The poor kid was already whimpering, so I twisted my towel and began to hit Marcus on the legs. Which is when the PE teacher came into the changing room.
“The other boys said Marcus started it.
“‘Is this true?’ Mr. Atkinson asked me.
“‘Yes, sir,’ I said. ‘Marcus wanted to see my penis. I can only assume he’s gay.’ Around me, there were gasps and giggles. Marcus went bright red.
“‘I wasn’t unduly upset, but then he started on Robert who was clearly not enjoying his attentions.’
“Mr. Atkinson goggled at me. ‘Right,’ he said eventually.
‘Everyone hurry up and get dressed.’
“Later that day, I had to go to the staff room. Mr. Atkinson was talking about the incident. ‘He’ll make some girl very happy,’ he finished.
“I doubt that very much, I thought to myself.”
Sam looked stunned. “Do you have any personality flaws?” he said eventually.
“I’m too modest.”
We burst out laughing.
“Have I cheered you up?” I asked.
“Was it true? All that about school?”
“You’ll just have to take it on trust for the time being.”
He spluttered into his drink again. “You are seriously—”
“But you have cheered me up.”
“Want to tell me about it?”
He indicated his hair. “It didn’t go down well at work.”
“What do you do?”
“I work for the Inland Revenue.”
“Oh my god! You’re one of them!”
“I sort of figured you knew that.”
We both grinned.
“What’s your best trait?” I asked Sam.
“I never hold a grudge. Not against Callum Hayward who held my head down the toilet. Or against Mr. Stapleton who thought it was me that had written something obscene on the blackboard. Or against—”
“I get the message.”
“I’ve forgiven them all,” he said nobly.
“Would you like another drink?”
“I’m awash. Any more, and I’d be letting you have your evil way with me.”
I stood up as if I was off to the bar again. Then I sat down. “Can I give you a lift home, then?”
He looked like a little boy lost.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“I think I’m falling in love.”
“That’s a good thing, isn’t it?”
“I think so,” I said gently.
I drove. Sam played with the radio.
When we reached his house, I walked up the path with him, and kissed him on the forehead.
“What’s the matter?”
“That’s it, is it? I sort of hoped…”
“I thought you said you didn’t on a first date.”
“It’s a lady’s prerogative to change her mind.” He held the door open for me.
“Looks like you’re going to find out if I was joking about what happened at school,” I said.
“You’d better not have been.”
“Would it make a difference?”
Sam smiled. “Come inside.”
So that’s what I did.
FELICE PICANO graduated cum laude from Queens College in 1964 with English Department honors. He founded SeaHorse Press in 1977 and, with Terry Helbing and Larry Mitchell, The Gay Presses of New York in 1981 where he was editor in chief. He was an editor and writer for The Advocate, Blueboy, Mandate, Gaysweek, and Christopher Street. He was the Books Editor of The New York Native and a culture reviewer at The Los Angeles Examiner, San Francisco Examiner, New York Native, Harvard Lesbian and Gay Review, and the Lamdba Book Report. He lives in West Hollywood, CA.
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