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Shousetsu Bang*Bang
Issue 35: Hooray for Hollywood

Edited by Shousetsu Bang*Bang
Smashwords Edition
Copyright 2012 Shousetsu Bang*Bang

Thank you for downloading this ebook. This book remains the copyrighted property of the contributors and editors, and may not be redistributed to others for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy or visit our website at http://shousetsubangbang.com. Thank you for your support.

Shousetsu Bang*Bang Issue 35 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

Based on a work at http://shousetsubangbang.com

Table of contents

The Envelope, Please, by Tsukizubon Saruko (月図凡然る子)

Sliced, by Domashita Romero (地下ロメロ),

illustrated by mcruthless

Highjacked by the Truth, by Dr. Noh

You’re Doing It Wrong, by Nijiiro Sumi (虹色墨)

Behind the Scenes, by Kuroobaa (クローバー),

illustrated by cloverbloom

Evander Stream and the Attack of His Greatest Fan, by Yamaba Aikaloko (ヤマバ アイカロコ)

The Sad Blanket, by shukyou (主教),

illustrated by r_a_parker

Touch Up, by r_a_parker

Front cover by olukemi

Edited and published by the Shousetsu Bang*Bang editorial staff. Read more about this issue at http://www.shousetsubangbang.com/wiki/index.php?title=Issue_35

The Envelope, Please

by Tsukizubon Saruko (月図凡然る子)

“Rental,” was the first thing Col managed to gasp when he finally separated their mouths, wheezing into Gary’s, “rental, rental, god damn you, rental.”

The message sunk in eventually, and Gary paused, actually easing up a blessed little bit on where he’d been grinding Col’s back into the elaborate backstage scaffolding. “…Wait, it is? Seriously?” He drew back a few more inches, to where he could run a critical eye down the front of Col’s tux. …Lingering in certain places more than others, and Col tried and failed not to blush. He probably looked like he’d stuffed one of the stupid statuettes down his pants. “Pardon me, but you know, I’m an old man, I forget things sometimes, maybe you can remind me how much it was that Thanksgiving at the Reynolds’ grossed on its first weekend. Something like 40 million, wasn’t it?”

“My dad keeps telling me to just invest everything,” Col muttered, looking at his fingers tangled in Gary’s lapels. Gary probably owned his tux. Gary had probably owned his tux for longer than Col had been alive. “I live in an apartment.”

“Oh, no. I had no idea. When has anyone ever suffered as you have suffered.” He softened the sting of that, though, by pressing a kiss into the top of Col’s hair, where it crinkled slightly in the gel. “For the love of God, though, can you please stop reminding me of how old you are?”

The first time they had ever been introduced, on a downtown lunch date, Col had beamed from ear to ear and burst out before he could think about it, It is such an honor, sir, Ward is one of my favorite shows of all time. When I was ten I used to bug my mom for hours so she’d let me stay up past my bedtime to watch it. He had never, ever been allowed to forget it. “Sorry. I don’t know. Just — careful.”

Gary looked over his face again, then smirked. “What if I just pay your deposit?”

He would’ve thought up some answer to that, Col was sure, but he never had time.

Gary smelled like some heady, spiced aftershave or cologne; his mouth tasted like whiskey, which gave Col the distinct sullen feeling that there were some green room antics the teen heartthrob still got left out of, even when he’d been over twenty-one for a good fourteen months now. Stubble scraped against Col’s cheeks and chin when Gary pushed harder, plunging his tongue deeper, although it mostly just made him shiver. There were big, heavy, square-knuckled hands running down the small of his back again, down further to first grip his ass and then knead it, a bigger thicker thigh shoving in between his; and the thought of returning the suit wrinkled was rapidly becoming secondary to the thought of returning it with a precome stain on the front of the pants. Let alone being shepherded through a throng of screaming teenaged girls outside like that. Let alone the thought of walking out across the stage like that. …Not to mention —

He pulled back again to try to protest, but this time Gary took having his mouth freed up as an opportunity to nip the base of Col’s throat right above his bowtie. Which lost Col his chance immediately, since he had to clap a hand over his mouth just to keep quiet. One of the little closed-circuit TVs showing the stage was right over their heads, faint echoes of Billy Crystal’s voice drifting to them from the sound equipment even in this relatively secluded little corner. Scaffolding and a swag of curtain were all that stood between them and the main corridor, though, where crew and other presenters passed by every couple of minutes, and even that barrier was just a matter of glancing around a corner to overcome.

Col bit his lip, and pulled his hand away slightly to try to say something else — which of course was when one of Gary’s hands slid around his hip, and took a firm squeezing palmful of the front of Col’s pants. The squeaking gasp that came out of Col turned out to be very loud, considering, and he was pretty sure he was roughly tomato-colored as the wrenched his head wildly over his shoulder to check the gap. He hadn’t heard anything but he was half-expecting Meryl Streep or somebody to be standing there, even though she was actually a nominee this year, you couldn’t help it, wasn’t it everybody’s worst nightmare to have Meryl Streep disappointed in you? “You’re doing this on purpose now,” he hissed, and then had to try to look at anything else except Gary’s stupid handsome face grinning up at him from around his collarbones.

“You just need to relax, kid. You’re way too easy.” Which Col definitely wanted to argue with, but with Gary straightening back up and pressing his mouth into his ear, his palm working in a warm, rubbing circle over the clothed shape of Col’s dick, it was pretty much impossible. “It wouldn’t take much to just get you off like this, huh?” he muttered, hot air stirring inside Col’s ear and lips barely moving on its cup, making him squirm hard and bite his hand again. “That might be interesting. Send you out on stage, it’d be the high point of the show for sure. All the tabloids’d tear each other to bits, fighting over who it was out in the wings who made you come. …But you’d know. And I’d know.” He paused, grinning, the shape of his teeth clear on Col’s ear, while Col shuddered and his breath made a wet sipping sound past his palm. “Or if you’re really worried, we could stop. And then they’d be wondering who got you looking as pretty as this.” A soft, wet kiss on his ear, an extra squeeze of his cock. “All red and wet and hard as fuck.”

“You’re an asshole,” Col managed, after swallowing at least six times, his voice a faint plosive muffle against the palm of his hand. His knees had entirely buckled by now; he was practically limp against Gary — all except for his cock, anyway, ha ha. Gary’s laugh, tickling much harder into his ear, came panicky-close to making his grip slip. His balls actually tightened for a second, and it took biting his tongue hard in his mouth and focusing his whole mind on the thought of Meryl Streep staring at him with folded arms and deep sorrow in her eyes to ease back off the brink.

“Well, all right, if that’s how you feel about it — ” And he did start to pull back, sending Col into a second’s raw panic — but instead of pulling away any further, tugged Col forward with him, glancing over his shoulder until he found a stepladder that had been behind them both. Gary sat down on one of its lower steps, and his hands cupped around Col’s hips, pulling him stumbling in until Gary was smirking up at him from the vicinity of his cummerbund. …Which, it was just now occurring to Col, was a terrible name for anything, whoever had thought up that name should have been shot.

“Take it easy,” Gary said, smoothing his hands around to the front of Col’s pants again, but this time to undo their fly. “I won’t get any on you.”

And before Col could offer any other protest, Gary had worked his dick out through the slit in his boxers into his hand, and taken it about as deep as he could into his mouth.

Col yelped, strangled through his closed teeth, before he could stop himself, and fell forward until his hands found a fumbling grip on the rails of the ladder, clinging for balance. Gary was holding the wings of fabric apart with one spread hand from underneath, but there was still only so deep he could take Col without pressing up to it; so he made up for it by lavishing all his attention on Col’s head, sweeping his tongue around in smooth circles and sucking close and tight enough to make stars flicker behind Col’s squeezed-shut eyes. Col pressed his face into his arm, where it hung clinging to the ladder, biting a little crease of his tailcoat’s fabric without thinking — counterproductively enough. He was already so close, this was going to be so embarrassing, maybe a max of forty-five seconds —

Footsteps, out in the corridor: a click of heels, heavier men’s shoes following behind. The pair who’d been on stage the last time Col had gotten a glimpse of the TV: some young starlet he barely knew and a slightly older actor he didn’t at all. His eyes sprang open, seeing nothing but the out-of-focus folds of his sleeve that he was panting into. They were coming closer, on their way back to the dressing rooms, chatting in half-whispers, the woman laughing — they were going to walk right by this little alcove, in this position they could probably see the edge of his back around the corner, they might look, they might —

Gary’s mouth slowed for a moment, and then soft breath huffed from it at the edges, feathering around Col’s dick — a laugh, God, was he laughing? And then the hand that had been holding Col’s pants and shorts open slid into the gap of his pants instead, over his underwear, cupping his balls through the thin material, squeezing them; his mouth sped up again and then into double-time, his head bobbing back and forward, his tongue drawing an obscene alphabet in cursive right on the wet oversensitive slit tip of Col’s throbbing, aching cock —

He came, right there, right then, at the exact second that the presenters walked past their hiding place, maybe two feet away from where they stood. Biting as hard as he could on a fold of his sleeve, filling his mouth with it, strangling the shout to death in his throat behind a cushion of expensive wool. His whole body shaking, but trying to hold himself as stil as possible, not even daring to twitch or breathe as Gary licked and worked him through every last shudder, teasing out every single one he could, trying to get him to crack.

The footsteps and voices passed by without ever hesitating, moving away up the corridor and fading out of earshot. Which at least was a little like a win. After a good two minutes or so, Col could even kind of breathe again.

“You are the worst.” Heaving, on every breath, reeling his hands back in in spite of how he wobbled on his feet, so he could scrub his face with them. “You are the worst, you are the very, very worst, you are a horrible man, you’re — ”

But then he’d interrupted himself before he could finish, by dropping to his knees in front of where Gary sat and kissing him again, as hard as he could. And, well, in spite of the somewhat heavy-breathed sound of it now, he thought Gary was laughing too hard to be listening anyway.

He could see the wisdom in Gary’s approach, now that he was thinking something a little more like clearly, and just pulled Gary’s cock out through his fly too, fumbling with it since he wouldn’t stop kissing long enough to look. Gary made a thick, heavy little sound in his throat, against Col’s mouth, as he went to work in long squeezing strokes — using both hands, mostly so that he could curl one of them around the head as a preemptive shield. God damn it, he was going to keep both of them presentable, or die trying.

Tinny echoes from the stage went by as he worked his hand, his face pressed into the salt-and-pepper skim of Gary’s hair, Gary’s breathing hot and thick and fast and stubble-ringed against the side of his throat: bits of patter, bits of the audience laughing, a cut to commercial break. All of it distant, and unimportant-seeming, now — even the stagehands passing by grunting and carrying something, out in the corridor, they seemed preoccupied and noisy enough not to worry about. He wound up pushed up on his knees almost over Gary, pressing him back into the ladder, Gary lying back mostly lax and languid but craning up to nip hungrily at his throat, one hand curled gripping around the ladder’s railing and the other cupped around the back of Col’s neck, digging into his hair. Gary thickened in Col’s hand, shifted restlessly where he sat, and then he took one last half-lidded, greedy stare at Col’s face, where it hovered watching his own… and then let his eyes flutter shut, let out a thick, half-voiced sigh through parted lips, and came pulsing and wet into Col’s stroking hand.

And then they just collapsed together, and sat there, panting hard into each other, rising and falling slightly on the crests of each other’s breath. Overheated and sweaty and disarranged and spent, and something like peaceful.

Which was when the disembodied voice from onstage that had been washing over Col like comforting radio babble finally said something that caught and held, like a fishhook, in his ear: “…to present the nominees for Best Original Song…”

“Oh shit,” Col said, overlapping Gary’s murmured and totally unnecessary, “Whoops, that’s you.” He lunged off Gary and up to his feet, staggering, doing a lot of hasty tucking and zipping and patting down in the process. “Oh God, oh God, fuck. Do I look okay? Do I look okay?

“Sure, fine,” Gary said, even as he was getting up too, with a wince and grunt of effort. “Perfect. Just like you just got laid.” Before Col could even splutter, though, he’d already grinned again and kissed him, and then turned him by his shoulders toward the corridor. “Go get ’em, kid.”

He sprinted up the corridor, full-tilt, smacking into a flat as he took a corner and practically bowling over a couple of sound guys in his way. He was completely out of breath and probably dripping sweat by the time he came scrambling up the last steps and stumbled his pace down to fall into step with Kody, who was already marching her way through the wings without him, wearing a long shimmery silver backless gown and an expression of pure murder. “Where the fuck were you?” she hissed under her breath, just before a broad dazzling Disney-princess smile sprang into life on her face, the second they crossed onto the edge of the stage.

“…Colwyn Holmes and Kody Marner!” Billy was finishing, sounding slightly relieved, over applause and some distinctly feminine cheering from the crowd out beyond the glare of the lights. Col flashed the easiest-going star grin he could out at them, considering he was still gasping for breath and had a sidestitch, and bent down a little to pant back at her.

“Sorry. I’m really sorry. Something came up.”

“Eat a dick,” Kody said, under her huge sweet smile and wave. Things had always been sort of up and down between them since Varsity Angel, but she also smelled like she’d taken a bath in vodka, so he guessed he shouldn’t take this too personally.

They reached the podium, and read their patter off the teleprompter, pretty much on autopilot. Col had even managed to catch most of his breath by then, and it was fine, everything was fine.

Right up until the point when Kody handed him the envelope — and he handed it right back to her, grinning weakly. Prompting an unscripted seriously?! look from her, and surprising one of the evening’s probably few genuine laughs out of the audience. But she opened it for him anyway, while he watched and waited, with his frozen smile plastered up on his face as hard as it would go.

And his right hand, still stickily coated with Gary’s come, hidden as best he could behind his back.

Sliced

by Domashita Romero (地下ロメロ)
illustrated by mcruthless

“Chef Kassa, you have been sliced.”


Edward wouldn’t lie; there was some part of him that thrilled whenever he got to say those words. He had no influence on the decision-making process, but he got the glory of delivering the sentence, making and breaking dreams in one reality show producer-honed phrase. Sometimes, like when the chef getting the axe was a complete asshole (which happened with some regularity; the producers really knew how to pick them), he took a special pleasure in it, but most of the time those little shreds of evil twelve-year-old boy glee dissolved as soon as he saw the realization hit the newly-dubbed loser, as soon as he saw the light in their eyes go dull.

And sometimes they cried. Oh, it was just terrible when they cried.

Chef Kassa didn’t seem like a crier, but Edward did see a tell-tale rapid flutter of eyelashes when he saw his dessert, his poor downfall of a dessert, revealed when he lifted the cloche. Edward knew the cameras were sucking up every little ounce of emotion on his face. The poor kid got himself together quickly enough with a thick breath that made his nostrils flare, and he shook the hand of Chef Patrice, the winner.

“Thank you, this was an honor,” he said, only a little flutter in his voice, and shook the hands of each of the judges. He took Edward’s last; his hand was warm and a little damp with nerves, and Edward gave his long fingers a solid squeeze. He managed to smile at him before walking off set, the poor kid, the poor cute kid. Sometimes it felt good to deliver the news, but damn if this time he didn’t feel personally guilty. He’d been rooting for him.

Still, they had to finish filming, all of Patrice’s triumph and excited fist-pumping. The producers would likely be happy; he had a pretty good story, what with how he was going to use the prize money to fulfill his mother’s dream of finally seeing Paris. They loved the stories that involved parents — those often got those delicious tears that reality television fed on. Patrice was no crier, though. Edward wondered how Kassa was doing backstage; he hoped his post-mortem interview wouldn’t be a damp one.

When all was said and done with filming he went back to see if he could find the kid before he escaped off into the cold cruel world again, empty-handed. He found him just ready to leave the dressing room, out of his Sliced-provided chef jacket and back in street clothes, but still with his black bandana covering his dreads. “Oh, Kassa, hey,” Edward said, catching him before he headed out of the studio.

“Oh, hello,” he said, and smiled. It didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Did you need something?”

“No, I just…” Edward felt a little odd, now. He’d never done anything like this, talking to one of the contestants after filming. He usually kept himself hands-off. “I just wanted to say you did a really good job today. You should be proud of what you did out there.”

“Don’t worry, I am.” His smile went a little crooked, a little more real. “Do they let you have a taste after all?”

“Oh, not a bite,” Edward said. “I just have to smell it and look at it and listen to everyone talk about it while I writhe in torment.” Kassa laughed at that, so Edward kept going. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been deeply tempted to go nibbling cold tidbits off of the plate they photograph.”

“Not this time, though?” he said.

“It was close. It was very close. Everyone was going on so much about how you used those vienna sausages as bacon in your greens. It was the first time I’ve ever had my stomach growl for canned meat.”

Kassa rolled his eyes up to the heavens and held up a palm. “I opened that box up and saw those and I just didn’t know whether to faint or go blind.” Edward smiled. He really was a sweet kid; usually that phrase involved more profanity.

“Still, you did a great job.”

Kassa shrugged a little. “Just a couple of mistakes here and there.” He’d been doing really well until the dessert round, where his admirably risky move of trying to bake little cakes had backfired on him entirely when they turned out drastically underdone and almost liquid in the middle, and not in a fun, intentional way. “But don’t you worry, I’m not letting it get me down. Oh, but they just got about twenty minutes of this kind of talk from me on tape back there, you’ll hear it plenty.” He gestured back to where he’d just been wrung out with final interviews, long fingers dangling in the air. Edward wouldn’t have called him flaming, not by any stripe, but he, as a former Professional Homosexual, could sense queer in the most slightly loosened of wrists, like a shark scenting blood. Kassa was cute. If Edward weren’t dating someone — and if he weren’t twice Kassa’s age — he might suggest dinner to help lessen the sting of his loss. As it was, though, he just put a hand on his bicep and gave it a little squeeze.

“No, I know it,” he said, smiling. “I haven’t seen the last of you, I know it.”

Kassa grinned at him then, a real smile, bright and beautiful. “I’ll come back next time and win.”

“Or I’ll come eat at your restaurant?”

“You can be at the chef’s table on opening night,” Kassa said, resting his hand on top of Edward’s for a moment. Oh, to be twenty years younger and single! “Right with my nanas.”

“Oh, such an honor!” Kassa’d spent the filming bringing up his grandmothers a lot, both from producer nudges to keep the thread of his story strong for them to edit to pieces later, and from a genuine love. It always warmed Edward’s heart to see someone with a love of food that came from family; it sure as hell wasn’t where his had started. “You can put me in the seat that gets hit by the bathroom door, as long as I get your cooking.”

“You will,” he said. “One way or another.”

“I have no doubt,” he said, and Edward went home that day thinking of how Kassa walked out of the studio with his head high. Edward hadn’t had an ounce of that kind of confidence when he was that age, and especially not the good attitude to go with it. Hell, he was forty-one now, and he still didn’t have those things on his brightest days. Kids these days, he thought, in the fondest way possible.

Luis was late coming home, but that just gave Edward more time to fuss over dinner. And to spoil his dinner, as it had been many hours since lunch, and most of those hours had been filled with standing around smelling food cooking; he couldn’t help but nibble on a spear or three of roasted asparagus, testing them for appropriate levels of seasoning before they found their final homes on plates next to roasted potatoes and steak au poivre. It wasn’t the most fantastically creative or mind-blowing of dinners, but Edward wasn’t a chef like the ones on his show. He leaned more to classic things, done simply and done well.

Edward poured himself another glass of wine to settle his nerves and stepped away from the oven to keep from nibbling. He could have gone wild with tonight’s dinner — watching the chefs at work was always inspiring — but he’d picked this menu specifically. It was the same as the first dinner he’d cooked for Luis five years ago, on their third date. Luis had swooned over his steak and ended up with beautifully red wine-stained lips. Edward had found a bottle of the same vintage. It was all part of the plan.

Edward had worked halfway through his bottle of ‘chef’s helper’ wine when he heard Luis’ key at the door. It was ridiculous that he was nervous about this. They’d been through their ups and downs, but after five years, you had to see some things as inevitable, didn’t you? No, no, it wasn’t romantic to think of it like that. He loved Luis. They fit well together. It would be fine.

Luis came into the kitchen, shrugging his coat off and coming in to give Edward a kiss. “Sorry I’m late; work was idiotic,” he said, and took in a breath. “Smells fantastic. I hope I haven’t caused it to be cold or burnt.”

“You forget that I’m an expert,” Edward said, as he started arranging plates. Luis gave his shoulders a little rub as he spooned sauce over the steaks and he smiled. His shoulders had to be rocks, but the press of Luis’ thumbs made him relax a little. Everything would be fine. “Sit down, let a man work.”

Luis laughed and took a seat at the table. “Yes, chef,” he said, and took out his phone. He didn’t look up from fiddling with it as he reached for the special bottle of wine that Edward had opened to let breathe, pouring himself a glass without looking at the label. He set the phone down on the edge of the table when Edward put food in front of him. Hell, he’d meant to light candles. He was a disappointment to Professional Homosexuals everywhere.

“Mm, it’s good,” Luis said as he tucked in. Edward ate in small bites himself, earlier appetite quenched by nerves and a belly sloshing with syrah. Timing was everything.

“Do you remember the first time I made this?” Edward asked, and cringed a little inwardly. It was such a cheesy romance movie way to start. He should have gone scripted with this one.

Luis looked up, halfway through a bite of asparagus. “Hmm… did you make it for my birthday last year?”

“No, no.” He’d made salmon for Luis’ last birthday. “It was the first time you came here. First time I cooked for you.”

Luis pondered the steak on the end of his fork and smiled. “Oh, wow, it was, wasn’t it? That was a long time ago. Sorry I forgot.”

Edward shook his head. “Five years,” he said. He took a breath. Time to jump. “And I think after five years… well, it’s time to start thinking about the next five years. And the next after that, and the next after that.” Luis set his fork down and stared at him. “I want to be cooking like this for you for a long time to come.”

Edward couldn’t quite focus on the line of worry forming between Luis’s eyebrows. He had to keep moving. Getting down on one knee seemed ridiculously heteronormative, so he reached across the table to take his hand, held just over his sleeping iPhone.

“Will you marry me?”

The echo of the words turned to sand in his mouth as Luis frowned and looked down at his partially eaten dinner, and then pulled his hand away from Edward’s. “Edward… look, I…”

Edward couldn’t quite hear the rest of the sentence. Really, he heard it, but the problem was that all of the words sounded like ‘no.’

Edward was wondering why life was so endlessly cruel to him as to have made him put the bottle of wine where he couldn’t reach it from where he was lying in a snot-encrusted pile on the couch when he heard the key in the front door. He had just a few seconds of hope that it was Luis, coming back after a few days thought with a changed mind and an open heart, but then he heard Carter’s sing-songy call of, “Hello? Edward? If you’re a corpse in the bathtub, say nothing at all!”

Oh, the bathtub. He hadn’t considered that as an appropriate place to die. He might have to change his plans. Still, he moaned something incoherent and Carter came into the living room. He put his hands on his hips and surveyed the scene in front of him. “Oh my god, this is just America’s greatest tragedy.” He’d texted Carter when Luis had first left, but the bastard who alleged to be his best friend had been in L.A. shooting something. It was his fault things had gotten to this state. “Are you in sweatpants?” He pointed over to the iPod dock. “Is that Adele?”

“Leave me to die,” Edward said into his couch cushion.

“I think you already did,” Carter said. “The only way this scene could get sadder would be if you were covered in Cheeto dust.”

“I ate a pint of Chubby Hubby,” Edward said, muffled. “And then I cried into the remnants because I’ll never have a hubby of any girth.”

Carter sighed and came over to sit on the edge of the couch. “You know, if I’d wanted to have conversations with sixteen-year-old girls, I’d’ve pretended to be straight in high school.” He rubbed Edward’s back soothingly. After years of working on Gay Plan for the Straight Man together, they’d become the closest of friends. If Edward was a Professional Homosexual, Carter had a Grand Master’s certification in the art. His cattiness was just his way of showing he cared.

“You aren’t helping,” Edward said, even though he really sort of was. “Or leaving me to die.”

Carter pet the back of his head (and Edward could hear the face he made, since he hadn’t exactly showered in a while) and got up from the couch. “And I’m not going to. First step, enough with the weepy soundtrack, it’s time to get a little empowerment going in here.” Carter went over to mess with the iPod, and after a few seconds of silence, a breathy voice came out of the speakers, singing At first I was afraid, I was petrified…

Edward groaned and put a pillow from the couch over his face. Damn the predictability of his playlist. “I will not survive,” he said, and Carter came over to grab his hands and make them limply wiggle in the air in tune to the music.

“Yes, you will! Hey, hey!”

“I’m already dead,” Edward said into the pillow as he allowed himself to be manipulated.

“You are not,” Carter said, and let his hands drop as Ms. Gaynor continued to sing. He pulled the pillow off of Edward’s face. “You are simply on the road to drunken fattydom, and friends don’t let friends become drunken fatties without a very good reason.”

“I have a good reason,” Edward said, looking up at Carter through smudged glasses. “I will be drunk and fat and you can just cut my cock off, as it’s never getting used again.”

Carter pet his hair again. “You know, I’m sure there are some people in the world with that kink, but I’m not one of them.”

“I’ll find a German.”

Carter put his hands under Edward’s shoulders and pushed him upwards. “No, you won’t. Or if you do he’ll be twenty-four and named Günther and will have the ability to suck a soccer ball through a garden hose.” He forced Edward into a sitting position. “Up, up. We’re going to get you cleaned up and get you out.”

Out?

Carter put an arm around his shoulders and slid onto the couch next to him. For half a second, Edward, his brain dehydrated by tears and wine, wondered if perhaps Carter would love him, if no one else would. Half a bottle of wine more and he might try it. “Outside!” Carter declared. “If you’re going to be a drunken fatty, you’re going to at least have the decency to do it in public instead of just drowning here in Boone’s Farm and fudgecicles.”

He hadn’t gotten that bad. Yet. “I can’t go out. I’m a public figure! I’ll be on those snarky food blogs! I’ll get snarked!”

“You got your heart broken and the first thing you did was tell me. You are clearly asking to be snarked one way or the other.” Edward gave him a look that had to have been pathetic, with the little cooing sound Carter made and the way he poked out his lower lip. “Oh, you poor thing. If you’re that worried, we’ll put a hat and sunglasses on you.”

“If you put a baseball cap on me, I’m throwing up pinot noir onto your cashmere,” Edward said, and meant every word. Carter patted him on the cheek.

“That’s the fighting spirit!” He stood up and held on to Edward’s hand, trying to pull him up. “Come on, you big sally, don’t think you can out-stubborn me. If I can make rednecks wax their backs, I can get you out for a grown-up drink.”

It was an excellent point. Edward didn’t even have the strength to keep fighting. What did it matter if he went somewhere and cried in public? He was never going to love again, after all. He stood up. “I’m not going to a club, though. I’m too old for anything resembling a club.”

“No clubs,” Carter said, as he pushed him towards the bathroom. “Now lets get you in the shower and into something that doesn’t possibly have urine stains near the crotch, I’m not looking too closely.”

“No, no, it’s chardonnay.”

Chardonnay?” Carter said, voice pitching high. “Sweet Mary, you do need help.” He gave him a hug around his shoulders, warm and close despite Edward’s general level of disgustingness. “Papa Carter will take care of you.”

A shower, some fresh clothes, and a cab to Manhattan later saw them seated at a little nook of a table at some very quiet beer bar covered in monk-related murals.

“This place is not like you,” Edward said.

“Sometimes you have to strike where they least expect you,” Carter said, and put a beer that tasted like raspberries into Edward’s hand. That was true; the bar was sparsely populated to start with, and the patrons there didn’t seem to recognize or remotely care that two stars of basic cable were there. Safety from snark, at least. Edward drank his beer.

Two of those later and he’d advanced from generic cries for death to the more specific. “I asked him to marry me, and he breaks up with me. What am I supposed to even do after that?”

Carter put his hand on top of his. “Sweetheart, I want you to answer me really honestly here.” He put his other hand on top of that. This was real. “Did you really, actually want to marry him?”

“Of course!” Edward said. “Yes, I did. I mean, we’d been together for five years…”

“My parents were together for twenty and they didn’t want to be married for at least ten of those,” Carter said. “Were you two really, actually happy together?”

“Yes,” Edward said, and then bit his lip and looked down into the pink foam of his beer. “I mean, you know, happy in that way you are in a long-term relationship. It’s not like everything is going to be romantic comedy giddy fireworks forever; we’re two middle-aged homos, for pete’s sake!” Carter just kept looking at him, a piercing stare that kept him talking. “I wanted to ask him the minute it became legal. But I didn’t want it to be just a, ‘oh, now gays can get married, so we have to.’ But I still wanted to. I wanted to… you know, seal it up. Lock it down. Have a nice sense of security as I trudge ever onward into old age.” He put a hand over his face and sighed. Carter pet his hand a little. “You know what he said when I asked him?”

“What?”

“That he wanted to see other people.” Carter sucked in a little breath through his teeth, and Edward laughed bitterly. “And isn’t that just perfect! I’m all dying to become Miss Model Homosexual, all family-friendly and legally wed so my favorite political candidates can point at me and smile, and he wants an open relationship!”

“Was that something he’d wanted for a while?” Carter asked. “Did you have any idea?”

“Well…” Edward cringed as he thought of it. “You remember the Argentina incident.” Luis traveled a lot for business. His trip to South America two years ago had involved him finding companionship.

“Yes,” Carter said. “And now that you’re broken up I can tell you that he is a worthless shithead for doing that do you and you should have never given him another chance. If he wants to go back to that tramp, let him. You can do better than that.”

Edward took his glasses off and set them on the table, rubbing his eyes and letting the world go soft. “I could do it, though? I could try an open relationship? Isn’t that what all the enlightened faggots do?”

Carter squeezed his hand. “Oh, honey, no. You are the Harriet Homemaker of homosexuals. You’d just cry quietly into your pillow every night.” Edward sighed and nodded. It was entirely true. “And if you were going to be in an open relationship, you deserve to be in it with someone you know you can trust, not someone who’s already run around behind your back with some slutty south-of-the-border ass.”

Edward put his glasses back on and managed a little smile. “Well, not that it matters, as I will now be alone forever.”

Carter reached out and gave his cheek a little fingertip-slap. “That is not true.”

“Entirely true,” Edward said as he turned his face away from it. “I’m going to become a gay Miss Havisham.”

“You look terrible in white, so absolutely not.”

Edward leaned his head back against the wall behind him and closed his eyes. “I don’t know. Maybe part of me knew he wasn’t satisfied. Maybe I was trying to fix it by getting married.”

“Darling, heterosexuals have been trying that one for years and it hasn’t worked for them.” Carter gave his hand a little squeeze. “But you don’t have to give up hope now.”

“I know,” Edward admitted, letting some actual sense break through his need for melodramatics. “But, god, being single in my forties? Just take me out back and shoot me.”

Carter reached across the little table and poked Edward on the nose, getting him to open his eyes. “Now, none of that. You’re handsome and talented and famous. Boys will be knocking down your door as soon as you throw all of Luis’ things out on the lawn and put out the welcome mat.”

“Whatever you say,” Edward said, and smiled. “And if no one shows up, we could always date!”

One of Carter’s eyebrows went up almost the entire way to his hairline while the other dove down to obscure his eye. “That’s a very sweet thought, but I also know you’re a bottom. I don’t think it’s going to work out.”

Edward sighed, this time with deliberately put-on drama, instead of his soul-deep pain. “And despite the fact that you are, too, you’re still an incredible pain in my ass.” Carter laughed, and he managed a smile, too. “But just watch out, when we hit fifty and are still alone, I’m showing up at your door with roses.”

“I’m sorry, someone has misinformed you that I’m ever turning fifty,” Carter said. “But I’ll take the roses.” Edward laughed as Carter finished the last drops of his beer. “I know you’re all sore and hurting now, but you won’t be alone forever. There’s someone out there for you. Some good man who wants to be a little his-and-his cake topper with you.”

“I know. There is,” Edward admitted. “But I don’t think I’m ready to go looking just yet.”

“I’ll keep an eye out for you,” Carter said. “And until then, I’ll keep you drunk.”

“You are a saint,” he said, and pushed his empty glass towards Carter for him to go back to the bar and get refilled. He looked around the bar, at the tables of couples and friends, at Carter teasing the bartender as he got more drinks. He closed his eyes, and hummed a little Gloria Gaynor.

Dealing with the apartment after Luis moved out was the strangest part. He’d had the place before they were together, so it was something of just restoring it to its previous form, but now there were odd holes and gaps, weird blank spaces even if he’d moved all the bookshelves to interior designer-approved locations. This was just what life was like now, he figured. Finding ways to fill all the spaces.

Life, of course, went on. He filmed the show, wrote some magazine articles, and remembered how to cook dinner for just one person. That was really the worst part of all of it, actually, the single portions and the leftovers and the unshared bottles of wine. It drove him to indulge much, much more in eating out, always a terrible hardship in a city like New York.

No dates, though. If he wanted a dinner companion, he always had Carter to make him laugh and make inappropriate comments about the cuter waiters. A while after the breakup he brought Carter with him to Aubergine, one of those nouveau French-American places that was so popular in the city these days. It’d been open for a while, but had changed chefs recently and gotten good buzz over it, and nothing soothed a broken heart like possibly getting to eat bone marrow. Something about the name of the place seemed familiar, too, although that was possibly from the fact that he had, at points in his life, eaten eggplants before.

When he and Carter had been seated, Edward went straight for the menu, planning his method of attack, while Carter just traced his fingers around the edges and surveyed the room. “What do you think of the whole open kitchen thing?” he said. “It always seems a little chain restaurant-y to me, like they want you to make sure you can see no one’s spitting in your food.”

Aubergine’s kitchen was exposed, the hustle of the line in plain sight for anyone to view. Their table had a particularly good sight line on it. “Please, like those places would want to let you see them defrosting bags of frozen ground beef?” Carter laughed as Edward watched the chefs move; it was a Tuesday night and the place wasn’t crowded, but they still had a balletic stir of activity. “I like it, really. Keeps things from being too stuffy and old-world. Lets you see a bit of the fire.”

“And maybe hear someone call someone else a puta?”

Edward laughed. “I think we’d need a bit of a closer table for that…” His eyes focused on someone in the kitchen and he pushed his glasses up his nose, leaning in the direction of the kitchen. “Wait, someone in there looks familiar.”

“Oh, an old flame tending the flames?”

That was where he’d heard of Aubergine before. He got up from the table. “I’ll be right back. Under no circumstances select a wine until I return.” He headed for the kitchen. He knew it was such a frowned-upon, shit thing to do to go raiding into the back of the house without permission, but what was the point of being a food celebrity if you couldn’t occasionally take advantage of it?

“Chef Kassa!” he called out once he got to the edge of the kitchen, past the glare of the expediter. Kassa looked up from where he was in mid-chop of some shallots, and then blinked rapidly as he recognized Edward’s face and connected it to reality. “Got a second?”

Kassa looked at his station, clearly mentally pondering how long he could be gone before people started wanting to kick his ass, and then set his knife down and came over to where Edward stood. “Hey!” he said, sounding a little out of breath from surprise. “Didn’t expect to see you again so soon!”

“I just couldn’t wait until you had a place of your own,” he said, and, well, that might have been more forward than he intended. “No, it’s actually completely a coincidence, I didn’t know you were still here. How are you doing?”

“Holding up,” he said. “I’m staging, so…”

Edward’s eyebrows went up. A stage in a restaurant like this was good training, but it meant a lot of hours with no pay. Edward was surprised he hadn’t yet been offered a paying position on the line. “Still?”

Kassa shrugged and smiled. “You gotta work hard to work hard.” He gestured over his shoulder to where he no doubt had things to peel and chop. “Speaking of, I’d better get back to it. I’ll let the chef know you’re here, though. He likes making a fuss over special guests.”

“I’d love it if you could make me something,” Edward said. Was he flirting? He surely wasn’t flirting; Kassa was half his age.

Kassa laughed, giving him a wide and beautiful smile. “You’re overestimating what they let me do back here. I can maybe put a special garnish on it.”

“I’ll know it was from you.” He gave Kassa’s arm a squeeze. “Good to see you, Kassa. Best of luck.”

“Thank you,” he said, and went back to his station as Edward returned to his seat and to Carter’s eyes shooting searing laser beams at him.

“And what was that?”

“Oh, he’s just someone who was on the show once,” Edward said as he picked the menu up again. “Very nice young man. Glad he’s still working.”

“So, were you asking him out?”

Edward glared over the menu at Carter. “No! Of course not.”

“And why not?” Carter turned his head to openly ogle in the direction of the kitchen. “I mean, look at him!”

Edward had looked at him, all six feet of him, with his pretty dark eyes and ridiculous cheekbones. “You’re still being ridiculous. I’ve got to be twenty years older than him.”

“So?” Carter tapped his finger on Edward’s menu to make him drop it down. “You’re at the perfect stage in your life for it! Just got broken up with, been off the market for a while… you deserve the chance to be a sugar daddy!”

Edward covered his eyes with his hand. “Please don’t make me lose my appetite. I really want to eat here.”

“I’m serious, though.” Carter pulled his hand away from his face. “I’m not talking about asking him to settle down and buy a house upstate or anything. Just a nice little bit of rebound fun to help you get your feet back under you.” He gestured over to the kitchen. “I could read the body language from here, by the way. He’s into you.”

“You’re absurd. He was being polite.” Edward sighed. “He was being polite and I was being inappropriate and creepy.”

“Please,” Carter said. “You’re not creepy. I’m creepy. I’m a pencil-thin moustache away from the full John Waters. You’re elegant and charming and a young man like that would love to be taken out on a date by you.”

Edward opened his mouth to retort, but the waiter arrived just in time to interrupt him. At least ordering could put Carter off his mission for a while. He specifically stretched out the conversation about wine to get him bored enough to be distracted onto something else. At least Edward would be getting his bone marrow, now.

He couldn’t distract himself, though, not with a clear view of Kassa, hard at work in the kitchen, endlessly toiling with his knives. “I haven’t even been on a date in years,” he said. “Especially not with someone his age. They’ve probably completely changed it by now.”

I’ve been on a date with someone his age, and no, they have not,” Carter said. “You take him out to dinner, someplace where you know the chef and can impress his little shorts off, talk about the food, talk about the wine… oh, dear, is he old enough to drink?”

Edward cringed. “Maybe?”

Carter waved a hand in the air. “Well, it’s not like you’re going to take him to T.G.I.Friday’s; they’re not going to card.” He spent a while with his head tilted, looking at Kassa. “What’s the worst that could happen?”

“He could say no,” Edward said. “Pardon me if I’m a little delicate about the subject of rejection at the moment.”

Carter lifted his napkin off his lap. “Simple solution: I’ll ask him for you!” Edward grabbed him before he could stand up.

“Do I look like a fourteen-year-old girl? Are we in study hall?”

“I’ll invite him to dinner with the both of us,” Carter said. “A perfectly safe grown-up activity with no obligations, just two figures from ‘I Love the 2000s’ having a meal with a promising young chef.”

“And that’s not somehow creepy?” Edward asked.

“It’s only as creepy as you make it, darling,” Carter said, and Edward wrestled him back into his chair in time for their appetizers to arrive. “And what is that?” Carter asked, pointing at Edward’s plate.

There, next to the long split bone with beautifully roasted marrow, next to the delicate parsley salad, was a little cherry tomato, carved into a rose that would do any 1980s wedding caterer proud. Edward picked it up and smiled. “A present from the chef.”

“That chef?” Carter said, pointing at Kassa. Edward nodded, and Carter stood up. “I’m going. If he doesn’t want to go out with you, I’m taking him.”

There was no stopping him now. “At least eat your food first!” Edward called after him, but he was already marching proudly into the kitchen — directly in to the kitchen, good lord, right on the line, Edward just couldn’t watch anymore. He just had to sit back and let whatever was going to happen happen. Edward squeezed the little tomato a bit, making its petals fan out, and then popped it into his mouth.

Edward was a few minutes early himself, but Kassa was already waiting there in front of Lardo. It was something else to see him outside of anything like a kitchen. He was dressed in black, making him look all the more slender and tall, and for the first time Edward was seeing him without a cooking-sweat-soaked bandana on, his thin dreads tied half-back at the nape of his neck. He gave him the brightest smile when he noticed him coming. God, he was crazy for doing this.

“Hey, hope you weren’t waiting long,” he said as he got close, putting a hand out to touch Kassa’s elbow. Kassa shook his head. “Carter will probably be a while. He’s always dramatically late.”

Kassa frowned a little. “Didn’t you get his message?”

Oh, of course. “No?”

“He said he couldn’t make it. Said he got hit by food poisoning, the poor thing.”

Edward sighed. “Yes, that poor man.” Really, it was stupid of him to not have expected something like this. “Well, I hope you don’t mind if it’s just the two of us.”

“No, I don’t mind at all,” Kassa said, looking right into his eyes as he said it. Madness, utter madness.

Edward opened the door for him and they quickly found themselves seated. “I’ve heard a lot about this place,” Kassa said as he looked around and picked up the menu. “I’ve always wanted to try it.”

“Oh, it’s great,” Edward said. “I’ve known Jamie, the executive chef, for years. We go way back.” Ah, good, he was already bragging. That was very attractive in a bloated old man like himself.

Kassa’s eyes got wide, though. “Oh, really? Do you think you could introduce me?” He quickly closed his eyes and snapped his jaw shut, shaking his head. “No, no, I don’t mean to be some little twerp who begs you to get connections.”

“No! Oh, no, I’d love for you to meet her,” Edward said. “I don’t think that about you at all, don’t worry. I mean I asked you here… well, okay, technically Carter asked you, but my point stands.”

Kassa dipped his head a little and smiled. He had really lovely eyelashes. “You know, just to be honest with you, I was a little terrified when he asked me.”

Edward laughed. “I can’t blame you. He’s a ridiculous goblin. One I love, but nonetheless. I promise I wouldn’t have abandoned you to him.”

“I think he might have eaten me alive,” Kassa said.

“Raw,” Edward said, and felt a thrill at Kassa’s smile.

“Kassa tartar,” he said. “If those are his habits, no wonder he’s sick.”

Edward waved a hand in the air. “Oh, he’s not sick.” Edward had no stake in defending Carter’s honor.

“He’s not?”

“He’s a liar and a bastard and a wannabe yenta.”

Kassa laughed. “Okay, I have to confess, I’ve heard that word a couple of times since I moved up here and I have no idea what it means.”

“He’s trying to set us up,” Edward said. He waited for Kassa’s laugh, and then they could have a grand old chuckle about what a ridiculous thought that even was, and have a nice dinner as colleagues that would leave Kassa with a full belly and some networking contacts.

“Oh,” Kassa said, soft and gentle. “So, is this a date?”

He had a look in his eyes, those dark lovely eyes, that said that somehow, amazingly, hearing an answer of ‘yes’ would not be horrific. Edward still had to play it safe. “What answer would make you the least uncomfortable?”

He felt Kassa’s foot brush his under the table. “I wouldn’t object to it being a date.”

It became quickly difficult to think of anything clever. Or, for that matter, to swallow or remember to breathe. Edward managed to laugh out a breath before he turned red, and said, “Well, if you don’t mind an aging pasty white homosexual on the other side of the table, then yes, it’s a date.”

“You forgot handsome,” Kassa said. Perhaps Carter had bribed him.

“Deliberately omitted, actually.” If this was now officially a date, though, he had to do his best no to completely blow it. “Especially when compared to present company.”

Kassa laughed, soft and breathy. “Well, I’d say I’m nothing special, but I’m feeling pretty special right now.”

“Stop, you’ll make this old queen blush,” Edward said, and then the waitress arrived, stalling any further attempts at flirting as the two of them dissected the menu, and Edward encouraged Kassa to order whatever he wanted, to his heart’s content. Perhaps there was something to the sugar daddy thing, after all.

The waitress went on her merry way, the two of them were left with no menus to fidget over, smiling just a little awkwardly at each other across the table. It’d been so long since Edward had been on a first date; he’d forgotten what this even felt like. It actually wasn’t bad at all.

Kassa broke the silence. “I don’t really get a lot of chances to date, actually,” he said. “I’m always really busy, and no one really… knows about me.” He made an extravagant little finger gesture that perfectly conveyed the abstract concept of homosexuality. “I guess you got a good read on me, though.”

“Oh!” Edward lived his life so dramatically out of the closet that sometimes he forgot about the poor people still behind its door. “I have gotten a bit of practice in my life, it’s true. But there was also a good amount of wishful thinking involved.” He held up an enthused little fist in front of him and shook it. “Lucky me, I was right!” Oh, lord, he was a helpless dork. At least Kassa laughed.

“I thought you were going to ask me out that first time after the show,” Kassa said. “So you’re not the only one with wishes.”

“I thought about it,” Edward said. “But I was dating someone at the time.”

Kassa raised his eyebrows. It really hadn’t been that long since the taping. The episode hadn’t even aired yet. “But not anymore?”

“Not anymore.”

Kassa smiled. “Lucky me,” he said, and the wine arrived. Edward made an extra show of sniffing and swirling and approving of it, because he had both a reputation and an audience, and then they both had full glasses and were alone again.

Edward lifted his glass to clink against Kassa’s, but paused. “Do tell me first… are you old enough to drink?”

Kassa tipped his glass the extra inch and made it go ting against Edward’s. “Turned twenty-one last month.”

Edward let out a slight groan as he drank his first sip of wine. “I am twenty years older than you. I just want you to be fully aware and warned of that.”

Kassa smiled over the rim of his glass. “I don’t have a problem with it.”

“Are you sure?”

Kassa laughed and put his glass down. “Listen to you! I’m supposed to be the nervous one here, not you.”

“Sorry,” Edward said, letting out a breath and drinking more of his wine. “I’m out of practice. Why should you be nervous?”

Kassa held the stem of his glass between two of his long fingers and circled it on the table cloth, making the wine swirl. “Well, here I am on my first real, grown-up New York City date with a handsome TV star. Of course I’m nervous.”

“Don’t be,” Edward said. “I’m a ridiculous man, and harmless as a declawed kitten.” Kassa laughed at that, and Edward knew it was time to steer things another way before he just tumbled down a path of babbling about all his failings. “How long have you been in the city?”


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