I’m honored to be participating in Queer Romance Month for the second year. When I heard this year’s theme was “We All Need Stories,” I was thrilled. I think that has always been a theme of romance, hasn’t it? From the “ruined” woman to the blind rogue to the amputee veteran–we all need stories. That obviously rings true for those who identify as LGBTQ as well. And we need stories for those LGBTQ persons who struggle with issues outside of their sexuality. Because you can be gay and live with a chronic illness, or transgender and depressed.
That’s how this short piece of flash fiction came to be. I hope you enjoy it.
The Samuel G. Madison library smelled like dust and newspaper. The popcorn ceilings were long past popped and on the way to disintegration. Every single chair squeaked so that the building was constantly like a fucking jungle of chair squawks.
I tapped my pen on the table, shifted my weight from one ass cheek to the other and was met with a creeeaaak of the chair. Because of course. I swore the librarians came in at night to loosen screws and splinter wood, all while laughing with glee imagining the annoyance of thousands of college kids trying to study over the chorus of protesting furniture.
It was why I glared at them whenever I walked by. Well, I kinda glared at everyone but whatthefuckever. I saved my special stone-cold glare for them.
The words on the page of my Macroeconomics book blurred in front of me, probably because I needed a healthy mix of food, caffeine and sleep. But not in that order. I didn’t know what order because I couldn’t think anymore. Because of the lack of the aforementioned list.
Look at me, using big words like aforementioned. Wish my dad could see me now. RIP Pop.
Then my eyes were sort of blurring for a whole other reason.
A bookbag dropped on the table in front of me and I shifted my face to my extra-special, Imma-murder-you glare that I saved for people who really pissed me off.
I got library etiquette. I did. Individuals filled up the tables in the library, but the tables sat eight and if none were empty, well, we had to share. But usually my size and my skin kept everyone away. It was really the only great thing about looking like a freak.
Yeah, I said it. You can’t say it. But I can say it. It’s my fucking skin.
So I tensed my shoulders and fisted my hands and raised my head.
Usually that did the trick. All I had to do was draw attention to the fact that the skin on my hands and neck were a different color than my face, and people left me the fuck alone, like I had leprosy or some shit.
Newsflash, people. Vitiligo ain’t fucking contagious.
But this guy… well this guy didn’t seem to give a shit. He stared at me. At my face. With his head cocked, one hand on his hip. His blonde hair was a little greasy, hanging down over his forehead. His shirt was worn and his jeans had holes in ‘em that weren’t bought that way. His face was okay. His features a little sharp, but who was I to judge?
He pointed to an empty chair in front of him at my table. “Can I sit here?” His voice was shaky, but then most people didn’t even bother asking. They just walked away. This guy was affected yet undeterred by my homicidal glare and my clenched fists. Maybe I needed to work on it.
I lifted my eyebrows. “Look like anyone’s sitting there?”
A grin flashed over his face before it was gone. Then he sat down with a loud squeeeeaaak of the chair. I glanced around me, but no one looked up, probably because we were all used to the noise right now, kinda like how you got used to the sound of airplanes when you lived near an airport.
I flexed my fingers, picked up my pen, and looked down at my book again. There was a rustling across from me. The flap of a turning page. The click of a pen.
Then a heavy sigh.
I looked up again, even though I didn’t want to. He was looking at my hands.
See, I’m black. As in, I was born a black boy in the North of Philadelphia. It was cool. I fit in. Everyone around me was black except for a few kids. I went to public school. I played sports—was the best receiver on my high school football team.
And then my skin turned on me.
At least, that’s how it felt. It started in my hands. My skin…turned white. Lost pigment. Of course I was still black. It’s a race, not a color, but I looked different. I felt different. Philly was good to me in the winter because it was fucking cold and I could wear gloves to prevent stares. But then the white skin of vitiligo began creeping up my neck and along my jaw. I couldn’t fucking walk around all the time with gloves and long sleeves and a ski mask. That was asking to get shot.
I was accepted until I was different.
I didn’t even bother telling everyone I was a fucking queer too.
And now this thin white boy was staring at me and although I was used to it, I so did not fucking need this right now. “You gotta problem? Move to another table if you’re gonna stare.”
His gaze shifted from my hands to my face. My eyes, to be exact. He didn’t look scared at all, and I wondered where the hell he was from that he wasn’t affected by my stare or my tone or my skin. “Sorry, my aunt has vitiligo,” His voice was soft, but deep. “That’s what you have, right? And I haven’t seen anyone else with it. I didn’t mean to stare. Hers started in her hands too.”
That was it. Just matter of fact. He spoke with a slight affectation and I would bet the remaining cash in my meager bank account that he was as queer as me.
I licked my lips. “Little more noticeable on me.”
He swallowed and nodded. “Yeah.” He cocked his head slightly. And shit, now that I looked at him a little longer, he was cute. As in, I liked the way his mouth moved when he talked, the way his blue eyes watched me carefully, the way he absentmindedly tapped his fingers on the table. “What’s your name?” he asked.
There was a pause, and his lips turned up. “Mine’s Wyatt.”
“I didn’t ask.”
“Yeah I know, but I think you were just being stubborn.”
I bristled a little at that. “You don’t know me enough to call me stubborn.”
He smiled. Seriously. I was going to have to practice my angry face in the mirror. “No, I don’t,” he said, then shrugged. “It’d be cool to get to you know, though.” Uncertainty crossed over his face. “I mean—”
“Are you asking me on a date?”
He blinked. And his mouth gaped like a fish. “I mean… as friends. I shouldn’t have—“
“Chill out, Wyatt.” I slammed my book shut and shoved it in my frayed black bookbag. “I like guys too.”
His mouth rounded into a silent O, but he didn’t make a sound. I gestured toward the front of the library. “I could use some coffee. Wanna come with?”
He looked at his books, and I could see his mind working. Then he mimicked me, slamming his book shut, shoving it into his bag, then hopping to his feet. When I walked over to stand next to him, I was about five inches taller, and he gazed up into my face. “Holy shit. You didn’t look that big when you were sitting down.”
Yeah, he was cute. It was hard not to smile. “Most people don’t.”
He followed me outside the library into the cool fall air. The sun hadn’t set yet over the horizon, but the sky was streaked with pinks and oranges.
“Oooh,” he said from beside me. “Hold on, I need to Instagram this.”
I hiked my bookbag higher on my shoulder. “Instagram what?”
He widened his eyes at me. “The sky! It’s so pretty.”
He snapped a picture before I could respond, tapped away on his phone which was about three iPhone models old, and then pronounced himself finished. He showed me his phone, and he hadn’t just taken a picture of the sky. Half of my face was in the shot too. I was wearing a gray T-shirt. There was a blotch of white along my jaw, then the darker skin in contrast, all in front of the backdrop of a beautiful sky. I opened my mouth to sneer at him, to tell him to fucking erase it. I probably didn’t have to explain that I didn’t like pictures of myself.
But yet, there was something about the way he was looking at me, like he wanted me to tell him it was beautiful, that it was a good shot. And so…I did. “That’s a great picture.”
His face lit up and his mouth stretched into a wide grin. His teeth were a little crooked. I wondered where he grew up. I wondered what his story was. We all had stories.
And I wondered why I ever thought his features were sharp in a bad way, because in the pinkish cast of the sky, he was a little beautiful.
He hadn’t taken his eyes off of me. “Is it okay if I post it?”
Everything inside me screamed no. But for some reason, my lips wouldn’t say the word. “But…don’t you want just the sky? I mean…why me?”
He stared at me for a minute, clearly working out the words in his head. “Because I like your face. I like your jaw and your lips. I’m…an artist. I take pictures and I draw. Realistic. I want to be an art teacher. So I’m drawn toward people with…” his cheeks colored a bit… “Really great bones.” He dipped his head. “You have really great bones.”
I lifted my hand to my jaw and ran my fingers over the hinge, along my chin and up to my cheekbones. His gaze follow my hand, and when I dropped my arm back to my side, he continued to study my face.
“But,” I gestured toward my face and neck. “What about that?”
He did that puppy-head-cock thing again and furrowed his brow. “Your skin?”
He shrugged. “What about it? It’s a part of you, not the sum.”
I took a step forward and touched the end of his nose with my index finger, then swiped it across his cheek and over his lips. He didn’t move, but he parted his lips slightly when I touched them. I parted mine along with him, and my voice was husky when I finally spoke. “Please tell me I can kiss you.”
A puff of air left his lips. And more color rushed across his fair skin. Up close, I noticed he had freckles. I guess neither of us had even pigment. With only a slight hesitation, he nodded.
I lowered my head, needing to bend my knees a little so that I could reach his lips with mine. His were soft, and warm, and it’d been a long time since I’d kissed anyone. I parted my lips against his and he opened for me. I licked into his mouth, cupping the back of his head while his fingers grazed my jaw. My entire body was attuned to the heat of his body against mine, where our mouths were fused, the way those slender fingers moved over my skin.
I didn’t want the kiss to end, but I needed to breathe, and our chests were smashing together as we each tried to take heaving breaths while inhaling each others’ faces.
I pulled back but didn’t let his head go. He blinked up at me with glazed eyes. I smiled, and the seldom-used muscles stretched.
He smiled back.
“I like your bones, too,” I said. “And your lips.”
He laughed and reached down, threading his fingers with mine. “Still up for that coffee?”
“Yeah. Yeah I think I am.”
About Megan Erickson
Megan Erickson is a multi-published romance author with Avon, Berkley and Entangled. RT Book Reviews said her debut LGBTQ romance was “a coming out story for a new age.”
About Trust the Focus
With his college graduation gown expertly pitched into the trash, Justin Akron is ready for the road trip he planned with his best friend Landry— and ready for one last summer of escape from his mother’s controlling grip. Climbing into the Winnebago his father left him, they set out across America in search of the sites his father had captured through the lens of his Nikon.
As an aspiring photographer, Justin can think of no better way to honor his father’s memory than to scatter his ashes at the sites he held sacred. And there’s no one Justin would rather share the experience with more than Landry.
But Justin knows he can’t escape forever. Eventually he’ll have to return home and join his mother’s Senate campaign. Nor can he escape the truth of who he is, and the fact that he’s in love with his out-and-proud travel companion.
Admitting what he wants could hurt his mother’s conservative political career. But with every click of his shutter and every sprinkle of ash, Justin can’t resist Landry’s pull. And when the truth comes into focus, neither is prepared for the secrets the other is hiding.