“So, let me get this straight, pardon the pun, but you went to second period Drama and the hottie twins were there. You said they watched you in class and after the pop quiz, you submitted yours and read their quiz for like a couple of minutes and then suddenly it was lunch?” Don asked Elliot as they all assembled at the top of the multi-tiered garden in the middle of the large quad that separated the various campus buildings.
Mercy High had once been a Catholic school, but two years ago the church deconsecrated the grounds and the facility converted to a secular high school serving Mercy and the surrounding unincorporated towns and villages along the Big Sur coastline. While parochial attendance had trended down over the years, the secular incarnation now held over seven hundred students.
Elliot took a bite of his egg-salad sandwich as he contemplated the best way to answer Don’s question. Don Garcia was his crew’s resident smart guy and avid surfer. There wasn’t much Don didn’t know or could gain a handle on. And the guy was quick – quicksilver, sort of quick – but in that Zen surfer boy way. He often presented the answers when the group needed them most, but with all the grace of a wise sage. With his shoulder length black hair, beguiling Latino looks, he wasn’t hard on the eyes or the spirit – he was always good for hang out with for a bit of a laugh, too. Elliot knew if there was anyone who might sort out what happened to him, it was Don.
“Well, see, that’s the thing,” Elliot began, realizing as he looked around that the entire crew appeared riveted to his reply. Some even stopped chewing their lunches altogether. “It all seemed to go like a few minutes at most. So how could two whole periods pass me by?”
“And why didn’t we see you when we left?” Terri added while deciding against finishing the cafeteria Spaghetti Surprise lunch he’d mistakenly purchased.
“Yeah, girl. We saw you get up and put your quiz in the tray and then left out the door before the bell even rang,” Randy added.
“Wait. What?” Elliot nearly choked on his bit of sandwich. “Okay,” he cleared his throat, “that never happened.”
“Girl, we saw you leave. We … as in Terri and me. Four pairs of eyes, unless you count Terri’s contacts then maybe it’s six.”
“Bitch! You said you wouldn’t spill my tea …” Terri gasped and slapped Randy’s arm for good measure.
“Ladies! We’re so beyond Terri’s less than stellar vision right now,” Elliot burst out. He wanted to know what Don was thinking and not this trip down Spilling Tea Road.
“So let me see if I have all of this right,” Don began as he wiped the last of his banana cream pie from his lips. “You two saw him clearly place his quiz in Mr. Ray’s inbox and leave the room but Elliot maintains he not only put his quiz in the box, he picked up the twin’s responses, read them without leaving the room, then heard the twins’ voices in his ear and when he reacted to them two hours had passed?”
“Yup, pretty much,” Els replied as he slipped the last of his sandwich into his mouth.
“Time and Spatial displacement. Wow … I’d read something about it in one of my science mags, but it was all theoretical. I mean, some of it has panned out from recent theory but like, whoa, that’s some serious shit.”
“Mmm-kay, before you go all science nerd on us and start techno-babbling shit we don’t have any way of understanding, are you saying that both can be true?” Elliot leaned in.
“It is possible; again, theoretically speaking. Perceptions are a tricky thing.”
“But that would imply that someone or something was the puppet master here, right?” Elliot pressed further.
“Okay, is it me? Or did we just enter Twilight Zone, now? What are you two going on about?” Cindy asked as she joined them from her trip to the cafeteria. She eyed Elliot and Don as she sipped from her Coke.
“Girl, you had to be there. Miss Thang thinks she stayed in the classroom reading quizzes when we clearly saw her leave,” Terri offered.
Elliot ignored Terri’s commentary because he could see Don was already onto something.
“What are you thinking?” he goaded Don a bit more.
“Well, the one odd thing throughout this whole scenario has been the twins. Anything else you can come up about them?”
“Wow, way to put the new guys into hot water,” Danny added.
“Well, think about it. Elliot told us that they kept staring at him. You two caught them doing it, right?” Don continued.
Randy and Terri both nodded but didn’t add anything further. The serious looks on everyone’s faces said that they’d definitely crossed over into the land of maybes. This was Don’s playground. He loved the possibilities in life and what’s more there was no one who could run down the number of possibilities as fast as he could.
“Okay, then we add to the fact that Elliot noticed how fast they finished the quiz and the sheer volume of what they wrote …”
“And how they wrote it … it was like Declaration of Independence quality script. Ya know, how people who wrote with feathers wrote.”
“Right. Okay. And where were they when you went down to spy on their quizzes?”
“They were busy chatting up Mr. Ray in his office,” Elliot replied.
“So, they hadn’t left yet.”
“No. And I was clear to watch that they didn’t see me reading their replies. They were definitely preoccupied with Mr. Ray. But it was their voices that sort of brought me out of reading those quizzes and when the lunch bell rang I realized I’d missed two whole periods. I mean, Mr. Ray had another drama class in period three. Then none for the fourth – it’s a free period for him. So when I snapped out of it I found myself all alone in the room. Why didn’t anyone see me standing there during the third period?”
“And the twins were nowhere to be found, right?”
“So, they could’ve pulled it off somehow. Hypnosis, maybe?” Don frowned at that simplistic, if slightly unusual idea.
“Okay, say they used hypnosis or something like it, but how?” Danny asked.
Don gripped some grass and tossed the blades into the bushes. Frustration was never a good thing for him.
“That’s the part we don’t have an answer for. And even the things that could be, are simply not plausible.”
“So, we keep an eye on them?” Elliot asked.
“We keep an eye on them,” Don nodded.
A shadow fell across the group.
“So, we heard this where all the cool kids hang out for lunch,” Pietro stated, making everyone jump.
“Mind if we join you?” Marco asked.
To say that lunch from that point out was a bit on the awkward side would’ve been the understatement of the century, at least, to Elliot’s way of thinking.
Everyone seemed welcoming of the twins. Most looked intrigued to have the boys so close to them for the first time. They just felt a bit odd with what they’d been discussing prior to the twins’ arrival. Elliot, however, became slightly tickled eyeing the grit to Danny’s jaw as he watched the brothers observe every move or sound Elliot made – almost as if they couldn’t get enough of whatever Elliot did. If anything, the brothers’ arrival was the perfect solution that just might get Danny to come to a decision if they were together or not.
Chalk one up for the twins, Elliot thought.
“So how are you liking your first day?” Don asked the brothers as he stretched back onto his bent elbows, his gaze intent on their answer. For all his amassed intelligence for a guy so young, Don’s questions were never as topical as they sounded. Don’s ability to suss out a person’s character from brief interactions was nearly legendary with Elliot’s gang. If you wanted a read on someone, you had them talk to Don for a few minutes.
“It’s interesting … for a small town like Mercy there are a lot of students here,” Marco commented, glancing around the quad at the number of students who called it their favorite lunch spot – choosing to sit out in the sunshine rather than the confines of the cafeteria.
“Mercy gets students from the surrounding areas – unincorporated towns and small villages and the random ranch or house along the coastline, which is sort of funny considering that it was once a parochial school but they couldn’t keep the attendance high enough to warrant this large a school.”
“You mean this was consecrated ground?” Pietro inquired, sipping from a thermos, tingeing his lips a darkened red color.
“What are you drinking?” Terri asked. “It’s making your lips go all red like. Almost matches my lipstick.”
“Borscht. We have a particular fondness for it from our time spent in Hungary. It’s a bit odd, an acquired taste, but I really like it.”
Elliot didn’t think that Borscht would be that particular red color but what did he know really about it?
The rest of the lunch period passed with pleasant, if a bit guarded, idle conversation. Elliot became quite surprised that in this setting the brothers seemed more inclined to share their personal stories about where they’ve lived and more importantly – at least as far as the crew was concerned – how rich they really were.
“We come from an ancient Italian family. We’ll just say that Pietro and I can pretty much acquire whatever we want, when we want, and not bat an eye doing it,” Marco offered, his eye moving to each of Elliot’s gathering to see how that little bit of information either intrigued or disgusted each of his friends.
Thankfully, nearly all, with the exception of upwardly mobile Cindy, took what Marco told them without so much as a single flinch. That made him proud of his gang. Rich kids or not, they had to score with his crew on their own merits. Cindy’s eyes just sparkled with the endless possibilities the brothers represented. The fact that there were two only seemed to double her chances on scoring.
Elliot didn’t know how he felt about that.
“Well, that certainly has to be a comfortable place to be. I bet coupons don’t mean a thing to your lot,” Elliot commented as the bell rang signaling lunch was over and fifth period was right around the corner.
“You might think that, but Pietro got the ‘Vette during one of those year-end sales. Made a hell of a deal to get it, too,” Marco added.
“We like a good bargain just like anyone,” Pietro added.
Everyone started to get up and gather themselves together to move off to their respective classes. Cindy gave a quick kiss to Elliot’s cheek, with an eye to the brothers, and then scurried off to her gym class. Don and the two queens paused for a moment before Elliot nudged his chin up to signal he’d catch up with them later before they reluctantly moved on without him. Only Danny seemed to linger – occupying himself with something in his backpack to eat up the time. This pleased Elliot to no end that Danny didn’t want to leave him alone with the hypnotically handsome brothers.
“What do you have next?” Pietro asked Elliot as Danny picked up his backpack and skateboard, trying his damnedest not to look like he was paying attention when he totally was.
A devilish smile snaked across Elliot’s lips as he replied, his gaze moving from a disgruntled Danny to Pietro, “Civics. You?”
“Psychology. Or what this school passes off as Intro to Psych,” he replied mirroring Elliot’s smile. He seemed aware of Danny’s little jealous ploy, too. Elliot thought maybe they weren’t so good at hiding their affection for one another like he thought.
“Marco’s got Spanish,” Pietro added.
Elliot had to admit that the Sforza brothers were wickedly sexy no matter what expression they chose to share with others. Marco stood slightly behind his brother and pretended to look around the quad as people moved off to class. There wasn’t much time left.
Danny snorted and began to move off without saying anything further.
“Meet up after school like usual?” Elliot called out to him.
Danny paused and glanced at both brothers before nodding and moving on without saying a word. Nothing could please Elliot more than the brothers’ finding a way to do something others could not – leave firecracker Danny speechless.
Now, that is some kinda power, indeed, Elliot thought.
The brothers turned to watch Danny leave, though what they thought about that little exchange between him and Elliot they didn’t say.
“Well, thanks for letting us join your little crew for lunch. Being new here makes it a bit difficult to find our own group of friends at school. So, um, thanks.” Marco said as he turned to move off to his Spanish class.
“Sure thing …” Elliot called out to them as Pietro followed Marco off the plateau. “Anytime …”
They paused for a moment and both nodded before moving off, leaving Elliot to realize he had less than a minute to make it to class.
“So you seem pretty enamored with the newbie guys,” Danny muttered as he slowly rode the skateboard next to Elliot who had to make his way home on foot. They were taking their usual route from the school down a few blocks to Main Street. This way they could make their usual pitstop at the local Dairy Queen his grandfather ran and get a free sundae or something.
There was unease in the way Danny talked to him now. Elliot had to admit that there was a part of him that liked that the brothers’ presence was enough to rattle Danny’s perceived place in Elliot’s world.
Silly boy, no one can ever replace you with me, he thought to himself.
“I wouldn’t say enamored was the right word,” Elliot commented as he plucked a leaf from a tree that lined this part of the sidewalk as they turned onto Telegraph Road and the strip mall where the Q awaited them.
“Oh, no? What word would you use, then?”
“I don’t know. Intriguing, unusual, hypnotic.”
“Ah-ha! Hypnotic … you are smitten with them!”
“Not likely. Jesus, I have a word for you though …”
“Do tell, Donahey. I’d just love to hear this.”
“Oh, how about jealous.”
“Fuck you, Donahey.”
“And there we have it, folks. Supremely confident Daniel Lynn Jericho totally in freak out mode by a couple of rich dudes that don’t mean dick to me.”
Danny suddenly stopped with the back of his hand to Elliot’s stomach.
“Seriously. C’mon D-man. It’s always been you. You know that.”
Danny looked away. This is when Danny usually retreated. Anytime Elliot made their relationship more real Danny took to the hills. Elliot nudged Danny’s shoulder with his to hopefully lighten the mood a bit.
“I know what you want, Els.” He turned from looking down the road to have his eyes meet Elliot’s.
Make or break time …
“And on some level, I want that, too. It’s just …”
“I’m not the one, am I? No matter how much we dance around it, no matter how much I want it, it’s just not meant to be, is it?”
“It’s not that.”
“Then what is it?”
Danny shrugged. “I wish I knew. God, Els, I really don’t know why I am so afraid of an us. Maybe because if something messes up then I’ll stand a real chance of losing what we have already. I … just can’t chance that.”
“So, what? You’d rather see me with someone else because you’re afraid we wouldn’t work out and I’d cut you out of my life forever? That’s a pretty shitty thing to throw on someone. And a pretty pathetic excuse for why we can’t be.”
“Nah, forget it. I got the message. I’ll see ya around.”
Elliot moved off, leaving Danny, and a piece of his heart behind him.
Two hours and two hot fudge sundaes later he made his way from the Q down the road that led to his house. Dusk had fully started to cloak the evening in darkened hues and magical light. It was Elliot’s favorite time of the day and yet, never had his heart been so heavy or so troubled.
He shuffled his feet as he turned onto Oak Ridge Way. His house was the last on this cul-de-sac. A few houses lined his side of the road; the other side was a bramble of blackberry canes and various bushes and trees that lined the sloping ridge his street straddled along the hillside in this part of Mercy. A slightly cool breeze billowed across his body, bringing goose flesh to the surface of his skin. Elliot couldn’t tell if the goose bumps were from the breeze or from something else.
For the past block or so Elliot couldn’t help but feel that he wasn’t alone. A few times he glanced around but the street was eerily empty except for him. Not even a passing car moved along the road with him. Maybe it was just his rambling thoughts over Danny’s commitment issues might be making him feel a bit on the anxious side of life. Maybe that’s what it was.
He glanced back to the corner and then across the street to the blackberry canes.
He started to walk toward his house again when some movement in the canes caught his attention. It could be anything. Deer often wandered the hillside in these parts, even coyotes and bobcats on occasion. Elliot was used to those things. But this, this felt different.
Like someone was there.
The light was almost gone now. Only a single porch light a few houses down glimmered in the distance, but otherwise there wasn’t much in the way of adequate illumination that he could count on to reveal what that sudden shift in the bushes could be.
Elliot took a few steps off the curb onto the street, his eyes squinting the tiniest bit, trying to sort out what was there. Another step brought him closer to what was on the other side of the canes. He could almost make out the shape. Whatever it was, it was big.
Bright headlights caught him standing in the middle of the street. The rumble from his father’s Ford pickup throbbed behind those brilliant beams. His dad leaned out the window.
“You wanna tell your old man what you’re doing in the middle of the road or is this some sort of school project?”
“Jesus, Dad! You fucking scared the crap outta me!”
“Uh huh. Get in, Son, before you turn into someone else’s road kill.”
Elliot spared a quick look at the bushes along the hillside before joining his father in the truck. Whatever it was no longer lingered there. No doubt startled by the massive pickup and the bright lights. He slumped into the seat next to his father as he closed the door not caring where his backpack ended up on the floor of the vehicle.
“Bad first day?”
“Jury’s still out. It was … shall we just say it was, odd?”
“Oh, yeah? How so?” He put the truck into gear and started to move the couple hundred feet to the end of the street and their house.
“Oh, nothing. Just new guys on campus.”
“They didn’t try to mess with you, did they? That’s the whole reason why I taught you how to …”
“What? No. It’s nothing like that. Just … I dunno. It’s all mixed up. Then, there’s Danny. He certainly didn’t help matters much.”
Elliot’s father, Nick, smirked the tiniest bit. He’d been watching his son and his would-be boyfriend go back and forth on making anything permanent in their relationship. He was slightly conflicted about Elliot’s woes with Danny. On one hand, he got why Danny kept doing the guy thing and being non-committal while on the other, he totally wanted to wring Danny’s neck for causing his son so much grief. But, on the whole, he knew it was best for them to sort it out. He accepted that Danny as one of the good guys. He didn’t think Danny would intentionally hurt Elliot, but being a good father, he was always keeping an ear to the ground whenever Elliot grumbled about their on-and-off status. So far it seemed just more of the same. Nothing too much to worry about.
“You two have a spat?” he asked as he turned the truck into their driveway and up to the large two car garage that doubled as Nick’s workshop.
“Nah, not really.”
“Okay.” Nick knew to wait it out; eventually his son would cough up the goods.
“It’s just …”
And here it comes …
He turned off the truck, carefully placing a hand on his son’s arm to stall him from climbing out of the truck.
“Well,” he sighed, then in his usual slurry of verbal diarrhea it all came out, “there’s these new guys, right? Totally hot new guys and yeah, I get it that you don’t get that, but you gotta trust me on this. They’re the shit. And they’re nice, too. I met them. Well, we have Drama second period together. Oh and they’re twins, identical, too. Two hottie boys, total foxes and they keep looking my way. Why? I have no fucking idea. But they watch me … in a weird but slightly sexy way that’s completely unnerving but totally hot all the same time. So, of course Danny got all what the fuck about it and yeah, we sorta had a tiff about it and I ended up eating two hot fudge sundaes and now I think I’m gonna be sick and that’s why the jury’s still out on my epic first day of school.”
Nick ran a hand down his face, mostly to hide the small smile that threatened to consume his face over his son’s teen angsty hormonal boy troubles. Not that he was making light of them, but more of how much adjusting he had to do whenever he had these one-on-one father-son talks. He knew when Elliot was born that he was going to be gay. It just came to him in a dream while his wife was pregnant. But it never prepared him for the “boy trouble” talks. They still sort of amused him a bit.
“Okay, so no dinner for you, tonight? You know your mom’s gonna be a little cranky about that, spoiling your dinner and all.”
“So not the point of our conversation here.”
“No, I get that. So who are these boys?”
“Marco and Pietro Sforza.”
“Oh, those guys.”
“You know them?”
“Contract work. I did some modifications to their bedrooms and a few other rooms in that old abandoned mansion they purchased on the other side of town.”
“So you’ve met them?”
“No. I worked with I guess what could amount to their butler or house manager or hell, I dunno. Anyway, his name is Angus. Nice enough guy, easy to work with. So, I did the work and was out before the brothers took possession of the house. Never saw ’em.”
“Well, that’s probably a good thing. They’re way … well, just way.”
“Well, that’s evocative.”
Elliot smirked. It was so like his dad to pull out his literary genius with just the right word to catch his attention. He loved his dad and the fact that Elliot’s gayness didn’t seem to bother him at all even if he could sense his dad having to constantly play the translation card from girl troubles to the boy flavored variety.
He had to give it to his dad on how hard he tried to be there for him as he navigated this thing called teen life. It couldn’t be easy. Maybe he needed to cut his dad some slack.
“Look, I appreciate your taking the time to listen to my first school day woes, and boy troubles, which can’t be an easy thing for you. But I seriously need to just chill and take some Pepto-Bismol or something to settle my stomach and get some homework done sometime before sunrise.”
Nick pulled his son to him for a hug, mussing his hair the tiniest bit as he did.
“Love ya, Son. And don’t you worry about the whole boy trouble thing. Yeah, it’s different from what I thought we’d talk about when you were growing up, but I’ve settled that score inside a long time ago. We’re good. Okay?”
“Dad, the hair … really?” He smiled softly as he tried not to barf all over his dad. He really needed to get inside and do something about his stomach. He popped open the door to the truck and started to climb out. His father came around the other side of the vehicle and hugged his son.
“Alright, alright. Time out on the boy probs. Get inside and see to your stomach and homework. I’ll do my best to pacify your mom about you spoiling your dinner.” He moved off to the house while Elliot re-inserted a few things that slipped out of his backpack. After he closed the door his stomach gurgled.
Just as he reached for the back door to the kitchen he shivered from head to toe and he heard it. A soft rustle of leaves along the hillside caught his attention.
“C-a-s-s-i-e-l …“ a male voice he couldn’t quite place lingered on the air.
That shiver moved through him again as a small gust of air moved across the backyard, caressing his skin, a small trace of lavender scenting the breeze.
He looked from one side of the hill lining the backyard to the other. He couldn’t sort out where the voice or that scent came from. But something was there, something that had an interest in him.
Before he could become bait for something he wasn’t ready for he quickly opened the door and slipped inside. It didn’t stop him from looking out the back door window.
Not a damned thing.
Meanwhile, some 5,416 miles away …
London fog moved over Tower Bridge. At this early morning hour, very few cars moved along this part of the road. A formidable looking man in a dark suit with a dark overcoat stood along the east side of the bridge, his gaze focused on St. Katherine’s Dockyard in the distance.
He lit a cigarette, the soft blueish glow from his electric lighter as he lit the cigarette briefly colored his face in a cool light. He inhaled deeply, enjoying the taste of the tobacco as it snaked its way into him. A stiff breeze coming off the Thames blew his overcoat open. He relished the cold. He found it refreshing from the arid nights of Spain just twenty-four hours ago.
Two men, of similar dark suits and overcoats approached the man enjoying his early morning smoke. The sun still hadn’t threatened to rise just yet. He had about an hour or so if his calculations were correct. Plenty of time.
The men reached him as he took his third drag.
“Were you successful?” he asked his new companions.
“We were,” one of the two men replied.
The man turned to face them, a stream of smoke trailing into the men’s faces. They paid it no mind.
“They’ve relocated to a small Northern California town just north of Big Sur. A town called Mercy.”
He nodded, saying nothing further. He turned to face the docks again.
“So, the Sforza boys thought they could hide from me.”
“Shall we make the necessary arrangements?”
He nodded, taking another drag from the cigarette as the two men moved off.
If you like these characters in this web series you might want to check out the original Angels of Mercy series that has the same cast of characters but in a completely different setting and time.
Okay, maybe not totally. I can’t put the blame on someone because they created something they were passionate about. But what art does, if it’s at its best, is to inspire other artists to create. So, in that case, it is totally Whedon’s fault. He inspired me. His storytelling for Buffy the Vampire Slayer (yes, I even endured the terrible movie version with Kristy Swanson and Rutger Hauer – in the theater, as a PAYING customer no less – so I get extra-slayer points for being a supporter from the very beginning). I didn’t buy the movie version. Not when it’s available to rent. I’m not that much of a freaky fan.
I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Whedon at Comic Con one year. I’d always heard he moves around in a constant state of exhaustion – the man works so hard all the time – and my meeting with him it was evident that even within the marketing hoopla of what he was there to promote that I was very judicious with my fawning over having a moment with him. I didn’t even bother him with a photo op because he just looked so damned tired – though it didn’t stop my daughter and mother from having me snap a picture of them. I’ve got it somewhere in my photo library … somewhere. Even my granddaughter made the rounds at the Con taking pictures with various Buffy actors when she had barely achieved her first year of life (she has the distinction of being Jonathan Strong’s very first baby pic – or so he told us as he took brief possession of my granddaughter so my daughter could snap the coveted pic of them). I already knew the do’s and don’ts of meeting him … chief amongst them was to NEVER mention his brilliant work for the movie Waterworld. That was a sure-fire way to make him walk away from you with a look that would melt you on the spot. We promptly took my daughter/mother’s pic with him and thanked him for his time and spared a thought to let that man rest soon.
He really did look exhausted. I felt enormously guilty for taking any of his time but don’t regret it happening at all.
But I digress.
I’ve always liked the paranormal or supernatural stories. Whedon’s take – when he emerged on the scene in the mid-to-late nineties – was a breath of fresh air. Not only did he have a great female protagonist but she was sharp, witty, assertive (when she needed to be), and completely three dimensional for a superhero sort of story. Who knew pop-culture refs would work in a serialized fictional story and that people were hungry for that sort of snark in their supernatural drama?
I lapped that shit up like mother’s milk.
So why write about Buffy’s influence on my works? And why wait so long between blog posts? Well, I haven’t been silent about my dealing with cancer. I am happy to report that my last CT scan showed that the cancer is gone and the residual lymph nodes that demonstrated inflammation and germicidal (the type of cancer cells for my type of cancer) cells that caused that inflammation had decreased by more than half after the second round of chemo was a complete. I was happy to discover from that bit of news from my oncologist. So the pause from my last post to this one has, thankfully, been a rosy colored one. Things are definitely looking up for me now. And having something like cancer hit you broadside (as it did for me) completely reset my clock – so to speak. What used to be important that was truly frivolous have all fallen by the wayside. Writing, now that I have some strength returning to my limbs and energy overall, has become forefront in my mind and efforts. I think I can return to the land of writing on a more consistent basis than before.
But back to Mr. Whedon and his inspirational scrivenings.
Aside from the Swanson led debacle, I pretty much own everything he’s ever worked on, written, produced (okay, maybe I’ve missed a couple there – but I’ve seen them). His character development, his ability to find tender threads within any character and make them relatable to a wide audience was something I wanted to harness and add to my own writing arsenal.
Before Buffy, words like “Owenness” (when describing the general aura of a character named Owen), or using the word “much” to proclaim complete astonishment (“Morbid much?”) or references to pop-culture slogans in the media at the time “Gee, Willow, I love your dress. How great that you’ve seen the softer side of Sears…” to establish a character’s snarky teasing/bullying were unheard of in night time evening offerings. Here was an over thirty-year-old man who was successfully capturing the rise in pop-culture use in teenage interactions was beyond brilliant.
If anything, it made me listen to my queer granddaughter and her friends far closer now as I write about my own crew of high school social misfits in Angels of Mercy. I want my kids to sound authentic. I think all writers serious about their craft do.
So why this ode to Mr. Whedon and Buffy? Because I’ve decided to do something completely bonkers. On the verge of ending my Angels of Mercy series, I am taking the entire cast of characters and recasting them all in a vampire/supernatural romp of my own. Only to make things even more interesting (at least for me) I’ve set them all back to the disco-laden days of the 1970s. Angel Flight polyester pants, candy heeled platform shoes, disco anthems on the transistor radios – what could be better for a fluffy Buffyesque vampire romp beach read? Only I’ve taken a page out of another author I admire and doing the new series as a freebie web series that I’ll compile during the month of November (using it as my NaNoWriMo) and adding some filler material and backstories to the web series to turn it into a YA book that will (hopefully) be slightly silly, slightly scary and even slightly sexy using the same cast of characters from my literary fiction series in this new scenario.
I sometimes think I need to have my head examined. I am hoping my readers who love Angels will join me and their beloved Angels of Mercy characters in a new story setting. The Same fictional town, same fictional high school, same snarky set of teens. Just toning down the over sex from the main series so it’s more YA audience bound. Maybe I’ll pick up new readers that way. Who knows? I just want to do this as a way to reexamine and explore my characters I know well and throw them into something completely off the wall fun.
I don’t think I would’ve seriously considered this pre-cancer. I think messing around with my own mortality has given me a certain freedom now that I’ve stared that mortality down and said, “Not yet … I’ve still got shit to do.”
I am confident I can pull this off. Whether my current readers will embrace it I can’t say. Fingers crossed and thanks to Mr. Whedon for giving me the idea (I am rewatching all seven seasons from the beginning while I write – giving my eyes a much-needed break from staring at the computer screen for long periods of time). Let’s see what I can do with Mercy’s Little Angels, shall we? The first “episode” hits my blog this Monday (fingers crossed). I hope you’ll join me for the journey in this retelling of my characters in a paranormal/supernatural frivolous romp.
Until next time …
How that simple phrase molded my young queer life back in the 1980s when we were quite literally fighting for our lives. The thing is, when I think upon it now, the phrase has lost none of its meaning. It is still relevant today as it was back then. Maybe even more so since the community has achieved so much from the time those signs first hit the pavement lo those forty years ago.
Recently, Levi Strauss introduced a line of clothing that carries that phrase and queer folks everywhere started doing the bash syndrome (something that really started to gain momentum when Roland Emmerich tried to create a movie about Stonewall). The same can be said for how we bashed the production of Looking on HBO. It’s far easier to bash what we fear is coming our way before we’ve even seen it or experienced it for ourselves.
So when Levi Strauss did the sneak peek reveal, peeps started chiming in and calling them out on the carpet for marketing a phrase that carries a ton of weight with the community. Yet not everyone back then agreed with Act Up! who created the campaign to have our voices heard when no one wanted to talk about the “gay cancer” scare going on.
Silence = Death.
But then I saw what Levi Strauss was doing. My queer granddaughter doesn’t have the context for what that phrase meant to the community. She’s grown up in a world where queerdom has its place in the mainstream conversation now. Sure, as her gay grandfather, I spend a great deal of time educating her on our past. We watch countless documentaries about what our community has gone through. At fourteen, she’s becoming quite the activist. I couldn’t be prouder of her if I tried. I sit in awe of how powerful a woman she’s becoming. My only fear with that? She’s extremely empathetic. She feels what others go through strongly. I know that under the wrong circumstances it can be used against her. So I educate her in how to detect that and how to channel that sort of negativity into something greater that accomplishes her goals. But there are times when things bother her and she’s been tight lipped about it.
Silence = Death.
I can’t have that. Not with her. And not with myself either. You see, recently I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Being over 50 I am one of the “lucky” ones in that most men who get it are between 18 and 35. Only 2% of the male population can get it at my age. Gee, thanks for that. Couldn’t I have been the 2% of the population that wins the lottery instead? No, my win had to come in the form of a cancer that within three weeks knocked me on my ass so hard that even after surgery I am still feeling its effects.
The thing is, I think I knew something was up but didn’t say anything to my husband.
Silence = Death.
At first it started out innocently enough. I went to the ER because I’ve had bouts with kidney stones and my lower right back was aching something fierce and I thought a stone was on the move. I didn’t want to miss work so I went to the ER with the thought that I’d get some pain meds to get me through the night so I could sleep and still get to work the next day. Well, I had the great fortune that I got the Asian equivalent of NPH’s Dougie Howser – the guy was YOUNG … like teenager looking young. But he was aggressive in that he wanted a CT scan to see if a stone was truly on the move. It was then that they discovered my lymph nodes in that area were inflamed – one so large that it was quite alarming. That was my first clue something bad was on the horizon. The cat was out of the bag, but for some stupid reason I didn’t give it a ton of thought about it. So shit is inflamed. What of it?
Silence = Death.
Yeah, that coulda been me. If it weren’t for my husband noticing that something was off in a moment of intimacy and (being the retired physician he is) made me book an appointment with my urologist to get that looked at. Unfortunately, I didn’t say the right thing when booking the appointment – ya know, the magic phrase that I guess I missed the memo on that all the other guys got – so my appointment was three weeks away from when I called. They must’ve thought it was routine or something. Well, in those three weeks I lost 45 lbs, my balance was way off – there’s video somewhere of me walking down a long hall at work where I was literally leaning against the wall for support but was so out of it that I didn’t realize I was doing it at all. Say nothing of the countless times during those three weeks where I’d get up to go to my car to buy something for lunch and nearly fainting in the parking lot (it was a far more regular occurrence than I want to admit even now).
So the appointment finally arrived. I was weak. I was a bone by comparison to how overweight I was before. Everything started to hurt. My blood tests were way off. My body was shutting down. I know that now. But then the operation came and removed the cancer – which appears from the pathology report was completely contained. So that’s a relief.
But now comes the part every cancer patient dreads … the chemo.
And here’s where it gets weird. They do these blood tests for cancer markers within the blood makeup. All of my numbers are within normal ranges, except for one. And it is slightly above the line in the sand they have for whether you can do outpatient chemo or you have to stay in the hospital on a drip for five days and then recuperate at home for 3 1/2 weeks. Guess which side of that little line I am on. Yeah – in-patient care. Needless to say I am fucking freaking out. My husband has been nothing but supportive as have the few friends and author pals I’ve told. For that I am extremely grateful.
But there are things in my life that I do to help others within the queer arts community. Chief amongst them is the Wrote Podcast. Y’all have no idea just how much time and effort it takes to put a podcast together and to keep it going. And it’s not like we’re getting paid for it. This is out of our love to promote others who write, sing, act, perform, sculpt, paint, etc about our queer lives. We want to champion them. But with my current state, I am having to pull back, leaving my co-host and co-producer Vance Bastian (who I can not ever come up with the words to describe what his involvement – both with the podcast and in my life – has meant to me. He is truly our superhero, our godsend and such a brilliant and caring man with a golden voice that could melt just about anything) to handle the podcast on his own. I’ll try to stay connected, but I’ve been told that energy will be a thing with me over the next four months while I go through the chemo.
Good news (if you can call anything remotely related to cancer – good) is that the success rate for my cancer is 97%. I’m clinging to that. That’s my light at the end of a very long and arduous tunnel I am facing now.
Silence = Death.
So while not totally the dramatic cause of the AIDS scare back in the 80s, I do see how that phrase means so much more to our community. It’s a bell-weather, a marker, a flare in the sky to remind us that we must be forever vigilant in keeping our voices out there. So while I step back, while I regroup and try to get better and hammer cancer back to the 9th level of hell where it came from, I call upon all of the authors, singers, queer content creators to step up and keep things rolling for Vance and Jayne while I find my way back to you all. Sign up for eps, encourage your author pals to do the same. Or if you know of singers, musicians, poets (GODS above, I would love to have a show on queer poetry), screenplay and playwrights – please get them to sign up for an episode.
With the current administration, we are at the precipice of our voices being silenced once more. And we can’t have that. We must not remain silent and think things will maintain the status quo. Because as I’ve learned from personal experience, you can’t remain silent. That silence might just very well spell death.
Until next time (and there WILL be one) …
That Oppressive Script … How Angels of Mercy Changed My Queer Boy Perspective on Sports
(Reprint from Rainbow Gold Reads Review)
Jocks have it hard.
They’ve got a lot to live up to as they pursue their passion in their chosen sport. This isn’t an easy thing to acknowledge on my part. I was one of those artistic queer kids that jocks loved to bag on. So why the change up in opinion?
Simple: I wrote Angels of Mercy.
When Angels presented itself (fully formed to the bitter end, mind you), I thought “Eh, I’ll bang this one out in a month.” I had the ending in my head already. I just had to write to that ending, right? Yeah, not so much it seems.
Here’s what I learned: you see, my main protagonist, Marco Sforza, is built upon my husband’s experiences playing football both at the high school level at Massillon, Ohio (the heart of high school American Football as we know it) and for Clemson U back in the day (admittedly a very different era than Marco’s present day story). So given the disparity in my husband’s and Marco’s timelines, I had to make some adjustments between my husband’s experiences and those that I was building for Marco. But what amazed me is that, at its core, very little has changed with regards to the institutionalization of homophobia within American football – be it, high school, college or pro.
We like to think “It gets better …” but in reality, has it? There are emerging stories about players in high school and college football that have appeared in OutSports where the players have come out to their teammates. In the cases that have been reported the response has been rather positive. Yet, we only have to bring up what happened to Michael Sam to understand that very little has changed with regard to players who hope to play openly and valued for their sportsmanship and not for who they love.
Angels taught me a lot. Not just about my characters and their road to happiness, but also because as I explored Marco’s having to follow that “jock script” all boys are indoctrinated to follow (bag the girl and draw some blood out on the field) Marco goes through some fairly difficult moments in his teenage life. In his desire to play ball and be one of the guys, he’s opened himself up to a major downfall that he can’t see coming – mostly because of the pressure to perform both on and off the field. That pressure is enormous. Yet, there’s a boy that has captured Marco’s attention in a way that no one, boy or girl, ever has. He finds himself on an emotional pendulum – swinging wildly from the life everyone else thinks he should have (girlfriends or friends with bennies, followed by marriage and rugrats), and the life he wants for himself wrapped up in a boy who requires darkness and shadows to survive another hellish day of high school.
It’s a ride my own husband had to play.
Simply put, hiding hurts everyone involved. No one ultimately benefits from that arrangement, despite how much comfort it may bring teammates in thinking that everything is cool, the dude is solid, a man’s man. Marco’s journey changed long held positions and baggage I carried from jocks that tormented me in my own past. I began to understand the pressures boys like Marco – who hide from themselves just to play the game they love to play – are under. But I didn’t want that discussion in my works to be so one-sided.
My granddaughter is queer and I spend a great deal of time with her and her friends. Queerdom is a very different monster with her crew. Just the fact that they embrace the word “queer” has changed my perspective on a word that used to torment me. So I realized that while things may not have totally changed, I also remembered the stories posted in OutSports of players who have experienced support from within their team. So while there is a clique within the team from Mercy High in my stories, I also balanced it with boys who really wouldn’t care if Marco was with a boy. I needed to show that line that things are changing. Maybe not at lightening speeds, but change is coming.
I am not kidding myself in thinking it will change in college or pro-ball in the next five, ten or fifteen years. That may be a long time in coming, but come it will.
With the release of Angels of Mercy – Diary of a Quarterback Part I: King of Imperfections and Angels of Mercy – Diary of a Quarterback Part II: Prince of Mistakes, I wanted to explore Marco’s journey. To be honest, while I started the main Angels of Mercy series from Marco’s boyfriend Elliot’s point of view, the story was really Marco’s to tell. He gets the lion’s share of the series (three books out of the six total).
I am thankful that Marco exists. He’s made me understand my husband’s past so much more. And I am far more sympathetic to athletes who take that courageous step to emerge and live a life out and proud. Their stories will always hold my interest.
I often wonder what I would say to my younger tortured teenboy self that would give my younger self context to understand what those boys go through. Don’t know if it would’ve made a difference or not, but I am glad I’ve grown enough as a writer and a queer man to give them a bit more of a pass and a modicum of understanding that many of them may not feel free enough to live openly and use oppression to express their frustration.
That’s what Angels ultimately explores. Here’s hoping that the trend toward acceptance keeps moving in a positive direction. I look forward to the day when it simply won’t matter.
Until next time …
SA Collins Store (support the author directly)
To start with, this isn’t some sort of pity party. What this is can best be labeled is a quiet contemplation of where I am as both a (queer) man and author.
You see, life has handed me that bag of rotten, incredibly sour, lemons. Lemons that no kind of sugar (coating) can be made into anything remotely useable.
I just released not one but TWO massive books in my Angels of Mercy series. The two books took close to year and a half to germinate and blossom into what they are now.
I am incredibly proud of the work – the entire series thus far. It’s broad in scope. While it deals with an ensemble cast, it’s main protagonists are trying their damnedest to have a fucking romance in the middle of the epic shit storm I throw at them. It’s operatic in scope – I can’t help it as I come from that world. Mundane thrown into the mass hysteria of opera like tropes. To me that’s when queer fiction can be at its best.
But as I said, while the release of those two books is complete, they’re out there, LIFE kicked me square in the rubber parts (literally).
Tomorrow I am going to go through a potentially life saving operation. I’m not going to sugar coat it – I’m fucking scared beyond belief. This, despite how many tales I’ve heard from “people who went through it” or “I have a friend/family member who’s been fine for the past XX years.” It’s always double digits. Which is good. Medicine has progressed to where things are getting better. Hell, even the doctor said that, “We no longer throw the kitchen sink at a problem. It’s finely tailored so that the therapy addresses your particular problem. We’ve grown that much in the past ten years.”
But life … I dunno, man. It has a way of keeping you down when you least expect it. Mundane with operatic overtones is where I am at personally.
But again, this isn’t a pity party. This is a “Jesus, have you ever really looked at the people who dot your life and provide so much color to it? Have you? I mean, really?”
People do cross my mind. I’ve grown to admire and love several of them since I’ve started to publish my works. Running the Wrote Podcast has only increased getting to know amazing writers and artists exponentially. I’ve been all the richer for it. Don’t know that I can spend it on anything other than my heart, but it’s definitely something to be grateful for, that’s for sure.
So while this list isn’t complete, these are just the names that cross my mind as of late. People who have come to mean a tremendous amount to me.
Brad Vance – you were the very first author I plucked up the courage to email and get to know. Given the Circumstances will always be at the top of my TBR list because it is simply that great a work.
Brandon Witt – you took a chance on a fledgling podcast that probably had next to no one listening to it. You were our second guest and you were as warm and engaging as anyone we’ve ever had on the show. I cherish those conversations with you about life, artistry and “the biz” – you never fail to bring your witty comments and ponderings to the table.
Angel Martinez and J. Scott Coatsworth – You two are powerhouses in the SF/Fantasy realm for queer fic. Not to mention amazing people to know. I cherish our laughs as much as our debates on the industry and writing in general. When you’re on the podcast I know we’ve got a great ep in the can before I even press the big red button to record.
Tuffy and Angie (Angle) Stanley – Tuff, I’ve known you since my first days out in gay land – cruising the bars, the fruit loop, and just generally hanging out and shootin’ the shit (as my dad would say). You’ve both been champions of my works. I don’t see or talk to you both nearly enough, but you’re always on my mind.
Jeffrey Merrell Davis – The first gay boy I ever met and we haven’t stopped talking for the past 35 years. I love that we quote movie lines back and forth in our conversations. We pepper our x-rated version of The Sound of Music where people least expect it. I’ve loved the fact that you’ve been like a brother/sistah to me and I’ve cherished each time we’re together. Some day I’ll have to write about Josie and Willy so the world can know about those drag personas we created and embodied. “Girl, did we have some times …”
Daniel A. West – Cuz, you mean a great deal to me even though we haven’t seen one another since you were a teenager many moons ago. But you’re family. You’ve been a solid cousin and bringer of positivity in my life. I am glad I got to share my boys from Mercy High with you and that you embrace them. There is no price I can put on how much your continued love and support means to me. And Jeffery’s definitely a keeper. Love that guy!
Now for the hard(er) ones …
Tia, Carmel, Pablo and Mom – My immediate family. I’ve grown so many ways in this journey of life. Knowing my own brother, Pablo, has dealt with what I am going through and he’s been fine for close to 20 years, has given me tremendous support and encouragement. Tia, you’ve been there and been a complete supporter of me when I was coming out. You showed me what that world was like. It was an education that cannot be measured or have a price put upon it. I thank you for that. Mom, it’s your voice (and Dad’s) that I hear whenever I have a difficult choice to make in life. You’ve taught me well. Your support through my coming out to you both, to embracing my boyfriends and now husband means more than I can ever express – and words are my thing. Carmel – We grew closest during our years of having braces. It’s never let up since. I am so proud of your accomplishments in life. Every time you post a pic of your bakery work I am truly astounded and sit there in awe of your creations. “That’s my lil’ sis …” You are a powerhouse of creation. I cherish that. I am proud to be a big brother to you and Pablo.
Now, this one’s gonna burn … but in the best way possible.
Vance Bastian and Jayne Lockwoood – Two people who have become family. Words fail me every time I try to describe what you both mean to me. Look at what we’ve created together. Just look at it! That was us, bay-bee! And we continue to do it every week! All the offline (and online) conversations, learning about each other in such profound ways, leaves me breathless and completely humbled by what you do. Vance you are, in every way imaginable, my superhero. You swoop in when I am really struggling and like the comic heroes of old, you know exactly how to lift me out of whatever I am spinning out about. You are the keel for our podcast. You are a brilliant writer and editor, not to mention gifted with such a golden voice that I sometimes want to put a pad of butter on the desk because I know you’d melt it even from where you are. Jayne, you are a true Lady in every sense of the word. We didn’t know fuck all about what we were doing three years ago when we started. But together we worked it out. You’ve taught me perseverance and the ability to make lemonade when you really don’t think you can. You both have been amongst the greatest teachers in life. You both are on my short list of peeps I can’t do without. I’d never want to know that day was like. It’s a world I wouldn’t want to live in. I revel in who you are a human beings and compassionate people who just want a better world for all.
Freddie Feeley Jr., Dr. Redfern Jon Barrett, Kate Aaron, and AJ Rose – Your incredible minds and passion to discuss world events has enriched me not only with your brilliant perspectives, but also because we’ve grown to know a bit more about each other along the way. While my current predicament has put the skids temporarily on our world talks, there is a part of me that clings desperately to continuing those conversations again.
Wendy Stone, Michael Rumsey, Matthew Gallien and Jimmy Thacker – Champions of my works and diligent beta readers. You keep me grounded and out there fighting the good fight just to get noticed in a field that is overwhelmed with daily releases. When I think I can’t go there, when I want to toss in the towel, I have you all to lift me up and keep me pressing forward. Your love of my boys from Mercy High won’t let me stop and wallow. That’s a very good thing. I count on it more than you’ll ever know. Don’t stop … I beg you.
J, Whitney and Keely (plus Katya and Zorro) – My daughter and granddaughter have taught me about family. Your immediate family. Whit, I’ve watched you grow and prosper into a brilliant and hard working woman (single mother’s need to take a course from you). And it was all on you to do that. You picked yourself up from impossible odds when you found out you were pregnant with Keely and you made something of yourself and provided for your daughter along the way. Womanhood is all the better for you playing for their team. Keely, if there is anyone I am most interested in watching blossom into womanhood, it’s you. At fourteen you possess a keen sense of self, of your sexual identity and your compassion and empathy for others who are less fortunate than you. Activists simply don’t know what’s coming down the pipe once you really get going. Your fearlessness, your sense of moral obligations and duty to help your fellow man and to “make things right” are truly astounding in one so young. You give me so much hope for our future. Your mother named you aptly – Keely Sloane – Beautiful and Graceful Warrior – I can’t think of a more prophetic name than that. J.L. – my husband of 22 years and fierce defender of what I do. YOU, more than anyone, sees me wrestle with that writing tiger in the room that constantly stalks me. You, more than anyone, pushes me to do better each time I put my fingers to the keyboard. And you gave me Katya and Zorro to give me cuddles and unconditional love when I need a booster. I know you’ll stand by me no matter what life throws my way. “We’ll deal with it, together.”
Angels of Mercy has taught me so much about life. It’s given me the means to explore what institutionalized homophobia in competitive sports is all about. Not all of it, mind you, but a good part of it because it’s built on my husband’s and my experiences discovering who we are as queer men.
I have a ton of characters sitting in the wings. I have a crap more to write. I have shit to do. That’s why this isn’t a pity party. It’s a take stock of what life has given you that allows you to put that damned bag of lemons down. That’s what this is. And these people, by no means a complete list (and please, forgive me if I’ve forgot to mention you and we’ve crossed paths. I’ve been enriched by every discussion, every Facebook posting, every story you’ve ever written or topic we’ve ever debated), but what it has done is given me a long look at the great things in my life. And for that, I am grateful.
Okay, LIFE, bring that shit tomorrow and let’s do this!
Until Next Time …
– SA Collins