The limousine moved quietly along the road into the long-abandoned property. Inside, Night Fever by the Bee Gees played softly from the more than adequate speaker system. The two occupants barely registered the tempo of the song by tapping their fingers to the lilting disco beat.
The car paused briefly at the gate. The driver, a young muscular man with devilishly good looks of dark auburn hair and verdant green eyes punched in the gate code to permit the limo to proceed down the long winding driveway to the house while the late afternoon sun played against the sunroof.
Marco Sforza, one of the two young occupants, glanced up at the glowing orb radiating against the heavily tinted glass before turning that glance toward his twin brother who only snorted in response before he turned his attention to the large moving trucks that already lined the long driveway to the Italian villa styled house.
“Well, it looks like most of the furniture made it here,” Pietro murmured to his brother.
“At least that’s something,” Marco replied slipping on his designer sunglasses in anticipation of moving from the limo to the house itself.
“Well, it means we won’t have to sleep on crates tonight, which will keep me from being cranky.”
Marco chuckled at his brother’s last. “When have we ever had to sleep on crates?”
“1863, in that hellhole of a town in Georgia during that unfortunate uprising of hunters and their ilk.”
Marco nodded, instantly recalling that rather bothersome moment in their past. “We didn’t sleep, though. It was more of a quiet repose before we responded.”
“Well, call it what you will, it was still uncomfortable as fuck.”
The car came to a stop. The brothers departed the vehicle and made their way past moving boys and the many crates and unpacked furniture that dotted the large foyer on their way to their final destinations within the spacious home.
Pietro stopped next to his brother, casting his eye to the large domed stained-glass piece that dominated the entrance to the house. Marco let his gaze match his brother’s. He frowned a tiny bit.
“It looks better than the photos led us to believe.”
“Well, it’s not as if we can’t afford buying the place and remaking it to suit our needs. But I have to say I do like the domed glasswork. Reminds me of home.”
They made their way from the foyer up the grand spiral staircase to take in their sleeping quarters.
“The construction people said that both bedrooms are completed and should be to our exact specifications.”
“Tinted windows and the lot?”
“Tinted windows and the lot …” Pietro confirmed.
The two master bedrooms were exact mirrors of each other, separated by grand pocket doors. Large California King-sized beds stood against opposite walls with a classically designed paneled oak headboard that exuded confidence in a very masculine manner.
The bedrooms still had a few crates of clothing and various items that still needed to be placed within the room, but all in all, they were nearly complete making the brother’s genuinely smile at their good fortune in finding things moving along as they’d hoped.
“Everything to your liking, sirs?” Angus’ warm baritone mellowed its way into the room behind the brothers. They turned to greet him.
“More than adequate, and what’s with this “sirs“ business? When were you so formal?”
Confusion played across Angus’ handsome face as he tried to come up with an adequate response.
“I merely thought that since we’d moved into a new town and the moving staff were about the place it might be prudent for me to take a more … conservative approach.”
“Ah, point taken,” Marco nodded in agreement. Pietro for his part didn’t seem to have a feeling one way or another about it.
Feeling a bit out of place Angus added, “I’ll just go down and see to the distribution of the crates and clothing items so we can get them all inside the house if not in their rightful place. Give me a holler if you need me.”
And with that, he turned and left them.
“You think he’ll fit in here?” Pietro asked as he moved from Marco’s bedroom through the pocket doorway into his own.
“In what way? It’s not like he’s socially inept, ya know.”
“True. But he can be rather … what’s the word?”
“Stodgy? Stick up his ass erect? Stickler for details?”
“Well, some of that but not nearly as bad as you’re making things out to be.”
By now Marco had moved over to a flat crate that contained the brother’s most prized possession: a painting of a young lad with the most beguiling looks that either brother had ever seen. The boy in the picture had long since passed on having lived four centuries earlier back in Ireland. But the Sforza boys never forgot to bring him, or rather the painting, along wherever they set up home.
“Now where to put you, my lovely …” Marco murmured.
“If it’s Cassiel you’re referring to, then he goes in the receiving room. Don’t think you can rob me of his beauty by sequestering him in your own room. You remember what happened the last time you pulled that particular stunt.”
Marco remembered all too well. It culminated in both brothers playing a world-wide game of keep away to the point where the damned thing nearly ended up in the Atlantic Ocean.
“I’ll leave it for Angus to decide where best to put it.”
“There’s a good brother,” Pietro called from his room.
“But I’ll pay him extra to make sure it’s more to my liking …”
“Preternatural hearing … I heard that!”
Elliot turned up the volume on his small transistor radio, trying like hell to get the best signal from KIDD, the AM disco station broadcasting out of Monterey. The gang still hadn’t bothered to show up for the first day of school. Word had it that some new rich kids had moved into the area and everyone was dying to get a peek at them. His gal pal in crime, Cindy Markham, said she had it confirmed that they were twins and hotter than bacon sizzling on the grill pan, or something like that. She wasn’t very good with her metaphors. In fact, it was a damned good thing she was pretty because she came up woefully short with the smarts. But he supposed that’s why he led this rag-tag group of students he hung out with.
From the far edge of the parking lot he spied Danny skateboarding his way toward their usual hangout along the planter just outside the main entrance to the school.
“Well, at least one of them bothered to show,” he muttered to himself. As Danny drew near, Elliot finally found the best spot for his radio to pick up his favorite station; Diana Ross’ Love Hangover was prophetically playing from the tiny speaker. Indeed, Elliot noted, his summer had been woefully short of any real loving despite his family taking a trip to celebrate the Bicentennial of the country during his vacation. School was about to start full-throttle with the steady flow of students arriving on campus.
“Hey E-man, whassup? Good summer?”
Elliot snorted, “You should know … we ended up spending most of it together, dork.”
“Oh yeah, I thought you looked familiar. Mom said to have a great day at school, by the way.”
Elliot smiled broadly. He loved Danny’s mom more than anything. She treated Elliot like he was a prince and Elliot lapped that shit up. Danny provided no end of teasing whenever he spied their little mutual love fest.
“It’s school, numb nuts. Not like we really want to be here.”
“Ah! Except everyone wants to be here today … new kids hit the school. Seniors, too, from what Cindy said.”
“What she do? Hide in their bushes for the intel or what?”
Danny snorted, “Probably under their beds, more like. You know Cindy.”
They both knew that part about Cindy and her less than pious ways when it came to boys. Right on cue, Cindy’s step-dad’s MG sports car made its appearance and she quickly departed without so much as a goodbye to him before he drove off.
“Hey, girl. Lookin’ mighty fine there, sweetness!” Elliot called out to her bringing a warm smile for his affectionate welcome.
“I wore it just for you …” She did a quick turn from side to side, showing off the pale grey with pink piping short shorts, a low cut v-neck sweater in grey and pink and knee-high socks that matched down to her grey colored Keds. With her long curly dishwater blond hair cascading down her back she was a vision of female beauty. Elliot could appreciate that, even if he had little interest beyond friendship with her. She promptly took up her place next to Elliot with his arm wrapped around her.
“Are you sure it wasn’t for those new boys? I think Elliot’s just getting the benefit of your playing to the newbies on campus, no?” Danny raised a brow to goad her a bit further.
“No, I did not! I had this picked out three days ago. I wore it for my guy, Elliot. You all just reap the benefits of my stunning ensemble.”
“Oy, no one’s gonna buy that …” Danny added shaking his head in disbelief.
It was a stretch, even Elliot had to see that. Cindy may be tight with Elliot, but she was also opportunistic when it came to meeting and playing around with the boys who wanted to play back. She knew that wasn’t going to be Elliot no matter how much she wanted it to be.
Within minutes the rest of the gang had arrived with Marty and Enrique bringing up the rear of their little posse. The final bell of the summer vacation sounded as a fiery Corvette made its way onto the senior parking lot. Knowing they had only seven minutes to get to class, they all stood rooted to their spots to observe who was going to get out of the hottest fucking car at the school.
As if scripted from an ABC After-School Special, two strapping boys emerged from the car. Both were sublimely beautiful with wild manes of thick dark hair, stylish clothes that would make the richest kid at the school envious, and confidence oozing from every pore. These two boys moved from their stud muffin car to a side entrance of the main building while Elliot’s crew looked on. The gang didn’t need any further temptations to get them to rush indoors to watch where these two golden boys were heading.
“That’s them!” Cindy squealed quietly into Elliot’s ear but loud enough for everyone else to hear.
The boys made their way down the long hallway toward the main office to the right of Elliot’s little gang.
“C’mon, dudes, we gotta get to class,” Marty mentioned to them all reminding them of their current destinations. The group slowly broke up and went their separate ways with promises of gathering at the plateau for lunch.
As Elliot began to move off he caught the attention of one of the twins, who paused slightly, his gaze intensifying sharply, almost glowing through the tinted sunglasses for just a moment, before moving off to the administration office. If Elliot were being totally honest with himself, there was something wicked that passed between them in that moment. Elliot walked away from that little scene a changed man. He just had no way of knowing how much change was coming his way.
Drama – easily Elliot’s favorite and constant elective class for as long as the Drama department and the instructor would have him.
In recent years, he’d made a name for himself as he possessed the triple threat – he could sing, dance and act without becoming stilted or phoning in a performance. Truth be told, he basked in the aura of the spotlight. He wasn’t the best dancer when he arrived at Mercy High, but his bestie, Danny, who was an accomplished ballet dancer, had improved his ability to move across the stage with far more grace than God had originally gifted him.
He saw the usual suspects, or what other people called students, who had been there the year before. Now that the previous senior class had cleared out, Elliot thought he would have a clear path to dominate the school plays this year. His day suddenly became quite a bit brighter with that thought.
As he took his seat along the perimeter of the staging area he nodded to a couple of the gay boys he knew congregated in the arts – safety in numbers was the rule of thumb when you were queer. Elliot knew that even if he were able to pass it off and confuse most kids with Cindy on his arm most of the time. It was all just an act. That’s why he was so good at this drama thing: acting for him was a way of life. In a town like Mercy, it was nothing short of survival.
The fall play hadn’t been announced prior to the school year. He supposed the drama teacher, Mr. Ray, had something special in mind and was playing it close to the chest.
A second or two later and the two queeniest guys Elliot knew, Terri and Randy, turned the corner. Proud, fierce and totally flamboyantly gay in a swirl of bright colors more appropriate for a nightclub than a high school, they floated in as only two balls-to-the-wall black drag queens could. Their grand entrance caught the attention of some frightened freshman. The duo took no notice and squealed so high when they caught sight of Elliot sitting by himself in the back row of the theatre-in-the-round set up Mr. Ray favored for improv class work. Elliot was sure that the candy glass props in the back room would probably shatter with the racket they were making over seeing him.
“Girl! Whatchoo doin’ hangin’ in the back row like some sad, sorry, freshman? Ain’t you got the memo? We’re upper-class girls now; we needs us some front row seats!” Randy wailed, bringing a warm smile to Elliot’s lips as he rose to meet them.
As much as Randy and Terri counted on Elliot’s protection as part of his crew on campus, Elliot lapped up their brand of fierce defiance in the face of constant adversity. But Elliot also knew these boys knew how to throw down. Randy may sport long nails and pitch his voice just high enough to play with people’s ears as well as their perception of him, but he cut his nails in such a way that a single side-swipe of his hand could slice you open like a knife through warm butter. And Terri was even more limber than Danny – which was really saying something – and knew more moves than Bruce Lee if it came down to it. Sadly, these queens had seen more than their fair share of horrid fights.
Elliot gave them tight hugs and blew soft kisses along each cheek – because you never messed with a queen’s face makeup. That was a sure-fire way to get your ass drop kicked in a New York minute. They took their seats with Randy and Terri choosing the last two in the front row with Elliot next to them.
“So, Mr. Ray hasn’t said a word about this year’s musical production, yet,” Terri began.
“Yeah, not even a word about the play for the fall either.”
“The nerve of Minerva … don’t she know we have a life outside this here joint?” Randy quipped. Terri leaned toward Elliot with crossed eyes, making Elliot chortle a bit at their perception of how Mr. Ray chose to run his department.
“Sometimes that queen don’t know his ass from a hole in the ground. Now, if he’d just do a local production of The Wiz we’d all make bookoo-de-bucks and gain us a little fame in the process. He’d only have to cast me as Dorothy …”
“You as Dorothy? Your skinny black ass can’t pull off Stephanie Mills, girl. You bettah get yourself to the corner store and pick you up some sense, Miss Thang, ‘cause you is runnin’ woefully short.” Randy laughed his ass off just imagining skinny Terri doubling for Broadway’s Supreme Miss Mills.
“Oh? And you think you can pull it off? Girl, you know you got them Glinda wide hips that just demands that you play her. So, you can’t do Dorothy, neither,” Terri shot back.
“Okay, we’ll leave it to Els to sort it. Go on girl, you tell us who should play her,” Randy offered by way of a truce.
Elliot stammered for a couple of seconds. “I was thinkin’, maybe … I … should play her?”
They looked at Elliot as if he suddenly was struck dumb or something, then turned to each other with a snark-laden glance between them.
“Girl, now, we know you can sang with the best of us. Our little trio’s rendition of Diana Ross and the Supremes at last year’s talent show was legendary. We nailed that shit to the fucking wall. You know we did. And you know we love you like our luggage. But seriously, girl, there just aren’t enough starring roles for diva’s like ourselves as it is. What makes you think we’d let a lily-white assed queen like yourself take all the best songs? Might as well do the original if we’re gonna Ease On Down that road. Okay, chica?”
Elliot smirked at being schooled by them in the nicest of ways when they could’ve just given him real shit about it. “You’re right … of course. I suppose I could usher while y’all carry on in the spotlight.”
Randy gasped, “Nah, you ain’t gotta get all over dramatic nor nothin’ … a little darker foundation and you could pass for Puerto Rican or a high-yellow black.”
“Are you fucking kidding me? With my white ass? There ain’t a Max Factor foundation real enough to pull off that cultural shift. You know what I’m sayin’?”
They all broke out laughing and high-fived each other.
“Yeah, you were the whitest Diana Ross this world has ever seen. Even if she sometimes forgets who she is …” Terri added, laughing through tears.
“That diva has some serious identity issues,” Randy snorted, waving a hand to dismiss their perceived Ms. Ross’ cultural confusion.
“Mmm-hmm, can you spell passin’?” Terri readily agreed.
“Oh-kay …” they high-fived each other.
A few more students found their way into the classroom and started to fill in the empty seats, just as Mr. Ray entered, his bald scalp framed by long wisps of wild gray hair that was combed into a sweeping mane. Coupled with his salt and pepper goatee his appearance gave him a Shakespearean flair. He slammed his lesson book onto his desk at the corner of the room just as the bell rang to call class to order.
Elliot surveyed the current class makeup. For the most part, it was inundated with terrified wide-eyed freshman.
Cool, he thought to himself. It meant that he and his two besties sitting next to him would dominate the class and terrify the little runts into submission.
They should know who reigns in this class from the start.
Before Mr. Ray could say his first word of the school year two more students made their entrance and caught everyone off-guard. It was the twin boys Elliot and his crew spied this morning parking that hellacious Corvette in the senior lot.
“Fuck me running …” Terri whispered, fanning himself furiously as if the temperature in the room suddenly rose with these two boys making their appearance. He wasn’t far off the mark on that one. Even Elliot felt a bit flush eyeing them so closely.
“Girl, who are those two hunks of man-flesh?” Randy leaned in and asked.
“New boys. Rich boys, too,” Elliot offered by way of a loose explanation. Aside from that, he didn’t know much about them. Only now, as they gazed out among the classroom he found himself seriously cursing himself for not grilling Cindy on them last night when they had their nightly phone call.
They handed Mr. Ray their add slips. Their teacher couldn’t help but beam that the two most gorgeous boys on campus had signed up for his class. Their prospects of ticket sales just increased tenfold if not more. To say Mr. Ray was delighted at this turn of events would be akin to his being given carte blanc on this year’s budget. Given the boy’s perceived wealth, that just might be the case.
“Well, everyone, it appears we have two new seniors in our fold: uh, a rather handsome collection of brothers, Marco and Pietro Sforza. Gentlemen, if you could take your seats and welcome to the Drama department.”
“Ol’ Raymond is just giddier than shit at these two studs being interested in his class,” Randy quipped with a small knowing snort watching, along with everyone else as the brothers moved to the opposite side of the room and took seats along the back row, almost mirroring where Elliot sat before Randy and Terri’s arrival.
A crackle from the loudspeaker broke the whispers and murmurs among the class. A small smile graced Elliot’s lips in anticipation of the daily announcements only because Danny was the one to give the school the 411 on all things Mercy High.
“Yo, dudes, and dudettes! Time for the first daily Mercy High report of the school year. School spirit week is on this week. Discounts for school lunches if you wear school colors during spirit week so be sure to take advantage of your downward spiraling dietary needs by paying less for that round of botulism and show your school spirit in the process. Ouch! Jesus, what was that for?”
Principal Silverstein’s voice could be heard in the background.
“Just read the notices without the commentary.”
“Okay, okay. Geez! In other news guys and gals, before I was so rudely interrupted, the annual Halloween dance is a little over a month away. Any local bands wanting to audition for the dance are encouraged to show up this Friday after school in the gym. Let’s all hope they know more than four chords and sing in a key other than X, though we’re not holding out much hope if past years are any indication.”
“Yeah, yeah, moving on … aside from the new exchange students roaming the halls, we have new dudes on campus! I won’t bore you with the people who don’t really matter in life, but two new dudes have made a serious impression within a matter of seconds arriving this morning. Please welcome Marco and Pietro Sforza to the school. It’s not like you didn’t see them arrive in that hellaciously hot ‘Vette with the kick-ass sound system this morning. So, uh, welcome bros, you’re Mercy High Avenging Angels now. I bet you just can’t wait for the absolute dullness that is Mercy to permeate every facet of your lives now, right? Lastly, in other boring news, choir, band and drama auditions are being held this week if you’re interested and have no desire to gain a social life. Because we all know that talent reigns supreme in this here joint. And yes, Silverstein, I’m moving on. Details on the auditions are located on the main bulletin board outside the administration office and outside the music and drama rooms.”
What? I’m done already. Chill out, man. And that wraps up this edition of Mercy High news.”
Mr. Ray didn’t look too pleased with Danny’s slight against the Drama and Music departments, especially given that Danny was a bona fide artist himself. But Elliot got why Danny did such things and knew it flew under the banner of survival, just like Elliot did every time he pulled Cindy close and mocked their pseudo-relationship – a relationship that he knew Cindy wanted to become real at nearly any cost. It was a touchy part of his life that he did everything to avoid. Having Danny in his life only complicated matters more. He loved Danny with all of his heart and thought Danny felt the same. They’d even messed around from time to time and it got very heavy each time they did. Only Danny never seemed to want to commit to being Elliot’s boyfriend so they’d mutually decided to cool things a bit between them. But he saw that grit of Danny’s teeth each time Elliot pulled Cindy to him.
Why can’t he just admit we’re meant to be together? Elliot pondered for the umpteenth time.
“Sweetness, you aren’t still carrying a torch for that foxy-assed boy, are you?” Terri whispered as Mr. Ray began to write something on the blackboard for the class to begin.
Elliot shook his head, but couldn’t hide from either queen how painful that situation with Danny truly was.
Terri took Elliot’s hand and gently stroked it. “Girl, you know he loves you more than he can ever willingly admit. Just give him time to come around. That boy is fine as fuck and you two look so damned cute together.”
“No one has a finer ass than Danny. You can bounce a quarter off that shit,” Randy concurred, shuddering at the thought of having a little naked time with him.
Elliot appreciated his friend’s encouragement, but to be honest, Elliot thought that boat had now truly set sail. He didn’t know if Danny would ever come around like he wanted him to.
Besides, I got two fine-as-fuck boys sitting on the other side of the room to think about now. Danny can just stew in his contradictory juices for all he cared now.
Elliot eyed both boys who seemed to have a trained eye on Elliot as well. If Elliot were honest with himself he seriously felt like both boys were undressing him with their eyes, as if they knew what he looked like naked to the world. It was positively carnal the way they were looking at him as if he were fresh meat.
“But don’t look now, baby boy. It seems you have the attention of our newbie boys,” Terri added, letting go of Elliot’s hand and nudging him with his shoulder.
“They’s looking at you like you’re what’s for lunch. Ooh, oui! Yes, queen, they just want to eat you up,” Randy added with a hushed squeal for emphasis – as if it needed any.
Mr. Ray had taken a position in front of his desk, choosing to sit along its edge to get things rolling.
“Well, let’s all get acquainted, shall we? Let’s go around the room and say our names and let everyone know what you’ve done in the world of theater, if any, and don’t be shy. The theater is no place for shyness to have a home. We’re in the business of exploring the human condition and truth. If you’ve got issues with talking to a group, then you’re going to struggle in this class. So fess up if that’s an issue for you and we’ll talk after class. As a side note, I’ve posted the audition times on the board for our first production of the year. We’re doing a mystery: Any Number Can Die, a sort of send-up of Agatha Christie. It’s a comedy and I hope you all will be interested in auditing for it, despite what Mr. Jericho had to say about it.”
Elliot knew that Danny would have to eat some major crow with Mr. Ray over that first school announcement. A smirk graced his lips just imagining that scenario playing itself out. Danny often didn’t police his mouth when it came to such things and it never ceased to be a source of entertainment watching Danny verbally dance his way out of his own messes.
For the next thirty minutes, the class members introduced themselves. It turned out for a predominantly freshman-laden class, several of those fresh faces had actually trod the boards in community or semi-professional theater. There was one aspiring kid, Dana, who had even done TV commercials and union work in Hollywood during pilot season. Randy and Terri almost openly sneered at the list of accomplishments the wide-eyed boy seemed more than happy to announce to the class.
Even Elliot had to admit that the little twerp grated on his last throbbing nerve a bit too much. They were going to have to sideline the little beast before he got uppity with everyone.
Then it came to the Sforza boys.
One of them stood up with such cat-like grace that Elliot found himself flushing at just how stunningly beautiful the boy was.
No, not a boy at all. He was already a man. I can practically smell it, Elliot pondered as the man announced himself to the class. His brother remained silent but never lifted his pointed gaze from Elliot across the room.
“I am Marco Sforza. This is my brother, Pietro. We are both classically trained actors and performers. We’ve been active over the years in professional theater back in Italy, having performed at La Scala in a few operas and even spent a summer or two doing traditional Commedia dell’arte work through small villages and towns all over Italy to much acclaim. While we respect the industries of film and television, they hold little interest for us as we prefer the immediacy of live performance to those captured on film or video.” Marco eyed the freshman twerp with a pointed stare that did worlds for quashing the little upstart’s ego. “Fame is fleeting. Serving the work is what’s important.”
Mr. Ray nearly cried tears of joy just hearing Marco’s words. Elliot swore he ran a quick hand over his face before he responded to Marco as he retook his seat.
“Well now, that was very encouraging to hear you and your brother’s experiences in theater. I don’t know how we were so lucky to benefit from your experiences but I can’t tell you how happy I am to have you both here in our little classroom.”
Both brothers nodded at the same time. Almost eerily so. Something about these two unnerved Elliot a bit. He couldn’t put his finger on why that was.
“But the brothers bring up a valid point that I want to poll from each of you so I know where you are with regards to the history of theater. While we do concentrate on performance in this class and will be going through improvs and scene studies, we will also be covering the history of theater so this is not a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants sort of elective. You will work in this class. With that in mind, I will be passing out a one-page pop quiz of sorts to see how much you know. This is not for a grade, so the pressure is off with this one. It’s more of a barometer so I know what areas I need to concentrate on as we move through the class over the semester. Take the next fifteen minutes to fill it out and leave it in the inbox tray here on my desk as you make your way to your next period class.”
He handed out the quiz and everyone began to write. Elliot, Randy, and Terri had the benefit of knowing most of the material by now as the range of topics never changed. Elliot scrawled out as concisely as he could the answers he knew Mr. Ray would expect of him. As he flipped the page over, he glanced up and found that both brothers seemed to have already finished their quizzes and were quietly chatting up Mr. Ray near his makeshift office behind several ornate dressing screens. Mr. Ray only seemed too delighted that he had such willing participants involved in his department now. He was practically glowing from the experience.
Elliot hastily finished his quiz, scribbling out something coherent but he had to see what the brothers had written on their tests. His curiosity was getting the better of him. That wasn’t always a good thing.
The bell rang just as he reached the desk to find he was the third test to hit the tray. He quickly pulled both sheets from the tray and began to peruse them with wide-eyed fascination. What he found was beyond his wildest expectations.
In the most delicate, but identical script, the brothers detailed every facet of theater history across the ages. Their handwriting belonged to another age entirely. Historical documents didn’t have the deft hand or delicate script these boys possessed. And the sheer number of words that they put down wasn’t simply possible given the amount of time they took to answer the damned thing.
He bit his lower lip just trying to put it all together.
You know … you can always ask if you want to know something about us … he swore he heard Marco’s voice color his ear.
Anytime … any place. We’re here for you, Elliot …
He flinched at the sound of both brothers whispering in his ear only to realize that neither brother was anywhere near him but that the class had also completely cleared out. He glanced at the clock and it was nearly lunch!
How the fuck had that happened?
He’d somehow been overwhelmed reading their quizzes; he missed the next two periods entirely! Didn’t anyone notice him standing there? Why didn’t Randy or Terri say anything to him to snap him out of it?
He hastily grabbed his backpack from where he left it at the end of Mr. Ray’s desk just as the bell for lunch rang out. He bolted from the confines of the classroom into the harsh light of a brilliant fall day. It took his eyes several seconds to adjust but he knew he had to get to his crew and tell them what happened.
“They’re just not going to believe this …” he whispered to himself as he moved among the throng of students idly chatting about random subjects as Elliot tried to cut a beeline to the school cafeteria.
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.
Thanks to Paul Gay Berry from GayMediaReviews for the lovely words and the opportunity to share it with the readership out there! #Humbled #DoingTheHappyDance !!
BIG GIVEAWAY WITH THIS ONE – There’s an opportunity to win the entire series (all 6 books when completed) and a $25 Amazon GC! GO check it out!
Okay, not really freaking out too much here. I mean, there was no stork, even if there was a baby (of sorts).
What happened was, I bit the bullet. I grinned and bear(ed) it. I took a leap of faith…
I published my first work.
I’m happy with it. Even if it isn’t the type of work I normally do. Part of me was concerned with that — perceptions and all. You see this work is a silly piece of fluff. Well, not silly, more sentimental and erotically charged. And while I am not about censorship when it comes to gay men and our sexuality, it is rather strange that I have a very sexual book out there that my mother can read!
Okay, I should stop worrying about that. I am gonna write what I’m gonna write. It is what it is. Right?
Yeah, well, I ain’t so sure now. Only because the next work I am putting out there is the important one. It’s the series that I feel the strongest about.
Hank and my boys of West Virginia are great. I love them and they’ve given me a spark of interest in writing about werewolves that I didn’t know I had. I sort of love my furry beastie guys. And Hank’s a rather pretty boy in their midst. I mean, the picture I have of him as an inspiration says nothing but pretty (if decidedly, beefy) boy.
Oh, that ain’t the only picture of him, neither (as he’d no doubt say):
So yeah, pretty and beefy. Just look at them arms and them pecs, will ya? And I am not so much for blond guys – but, uh, yeah. He’d do — no kicking to the curb with that purdy boy! #jussayin
And Hank’s a lovely boy to write about. He’s caring, un-obsessed with his own good looks, genial and easy to get along with. Completely unassuming. And who’da thunk he’d be in the middle of a werewolf war that was about to break loose? Or that his mama and closest thing to a grandma he’s got are a pair of powerful witches? I know he sure didn’t.
Hank and his boys are near and dear to my heart. Which was sort of a revelation. I mean, as an author, you are deeply involved with your characters and your worlds that you create. That’s fairly a given — unless your completely dispassionate about the work then, why bother? But even if you are deeply in bed with them, it doesn’t always mean you have to like them much.
But with Hank, Riley, Tanner, Mike, Toby, Darby, Dylan, Maynard, and Spike – I am really already rooting for these boys to triumph over the likes of Cade Bowen/Talbot.
Don’t know who he is?
Yeah, well, go pick up the book, dammit!
Sidebar: S.O. to author pal, Kris Ripper who liked the first one I did of these, that I’d thought I shoot her another. Hope you all enjoy it too!
So let’s talk book covers, shall we? I mean, I did it before. So it’s not like it’s the first time, right?
I’ve been busy. Did the NaNoWriMo event for the first time and I was really enjoying it (even if it was a bit of a slog to write on a deadline schedule – but it was good for me).
Been putting small tweaks on Angels of Mercy Volume One: Elliot and fleshing out Volume Two: Marco. Volume One is sorta waiting in the wings because it’s ends on a cliff hanger and several authors said that as a newbie writer I shouldn’t do a cliff hanger – soooooo, since my stories are what they are, I decided to forestall the first book and just get book 2 prepped and ready to go so they can be released in tandem. Book 2 ends on a cliff hanger as well, but I figure I’ll have them decently hooked by then (fingers crossed).
So here’s the small twist in this – Marco’s always been the meat of the entire series as far as I am concerned. Elliot and the third boy (who is our guide in Volume 3) are merely bookends to Marco’s tome. The story has always been Marco’s to tell. I just wanted you to get to know the love of his life first. Elliot in many ways is an extension of myself. That’s why it is a character study.
I’ve had betas read the pre-released work and I get universal high marks on grammar and structure (my author pals have universally praised me on the manuscript being so clean) – and that’s the hubby too. He’s been my sole editor. He’s never done it professionally (still hasn’t cause he’s on the personal payroll – wink, wink), but he comes from a LONG line of educators that specialized in English. So I am solid there. He also used to play football for Clemson back in the day so that’s where all the football motif is coming from (well, that, and I did have a fling in my Senior year with an actual HS quarterback). But as I said, the response from everyone I’ve given it to thus far have really been impressed. I am humbled and grateful more than I can say about this.
Angels has been both an easy work to write and incredibly difficult to write. It is a very personal work. It is a love letter to my husband as much as it is to gay men I’ve been blessed to know and have in my life. Truly blessed.
So why the second entry on the book covers? Because I’ve finally nailed book one AND I’ve completed the work on book two in the process! Yippee!!
And here’s the big reveal on the second book cover in the series (cue drum roll in your head, please):
And as with Book One’s design I’ll let you see how I did it…
First things first – as with all things Foodie, there is a recipe and of course the ingredients. I am a content designer (of sorts – previous life as a graphic designer for a theater company in San Diego (amongst other things)).
Software used – Adobe Creative Cloud Suite (primarily Adobe Illustrator CC 2014 and Adobe Photoshop CC 2014)
Graphic elements – images from iStock Photo (photos and vector art)
Fonts Used – Scriptina (for “Angels” in the logo) and Copperplate Light for the subtitle and my author byline, and Jackport College NCV font for the football jersey number 7.
The original artwork in its raw form:
Illustrator Vector Line Art
The Footballer (Hi-res Photo JPG)
The fonts and logo work were borrowed from my Book One cover and adapted/modified to suit “Marco” in the title. Recycle whenever possible – it builds brand consistency and also cuts down on the design time and lets you get back to what we all REALLY want to do – WRITE, dammit!
So I’ll start with one element of this new book cover that kicked my ass on book one – the fucking footballer jersey has NO NUMBER! Couldn’t do a simple overlay – that would be too f’d up – it wouldn’t be right. So I hit the net and sorted through Photoshop tutorial after tutorial using crap assed terms to find what I was looking for – only because I couldn’t remember what I needed to really look for until I found it again – DISPLACEMENT MAPS. They are golden in my book now. And they proved a helluva lot easier to do than I thought they’d be – Win-Win in my book!
You can check out the tutorial that solved it for me right here.
So first things first – I knew my footballer needed his requisite wings so I had to separate the background (the troublesome gradient blue/black background) from the (footballer) foreground. Sometimes the graphics come with masked backgrounds so this is rather simple. NOT this time around. Sheesh! So I had to painstakingly (though I did save a small bit of time) using the magnetic lasso tool in photoshop to cut away at the background from around my mysterious “Marco” footballer.
Then slip a solid black background on a separate layer so I could manipulate at will what I wanted to do. Here’s the final with the broken down layers along the right side of the screenshot (click to enlarge):
As you can see by the layers in the picture I post above, the background was solid black. The footballer sits just behind the jersey number layer and my author cred. The wings and the logo taking up the layers in between.
So I imported the jpeg I created from the Illustrator file and cropped the blue side of the wings (the ‘water’ wings) and duplicated the layers in photoshop once the first blue wing was imported and then sized them by freehand so while they are an exact dupe, they aren’t sized exactly the same – only a hint a being symmetrical. It was enough for my purposes. I didn’t want an exact dupe this time around.
I also angled them so they would be more upright (alluding to the same sort of position from my Art Deco wings from the first cover – see above). Added an adjustment layer above the two wing layers and boosted the hue and saturation to embellish and bring out the blueness of them.
Next up – Slipping my footballer back in front of the newly created wings.
So now we get to the hard part – or what I perceived to be the hard part – the Displacement Map – to add the jersey number. The file I created for the displacement map I ended up using the black channel of the photo (when you get to that step) as it had the most contrast to build the map (I think in the tutorial link she used the red channel – use what looks best and has the highest contrast to work from – it’ll apply the best results).
I typed the number for the jersey (using the Jackport College NCV font) to create Marco’s football number – 7. And I applied a white to black gradient to the number so it would fade out along the bottom of the cover like his shirt does in the picture.
I used the tutorial just as it is described above in the link I provided BUT I changed the displacement map settings from the default 10 to 5. This was the result:
Then I added the duped layers from my original Volume One: Elliot book cover (see above) and inserted the duped layers for the book title and sub-title (swapping out ONE for TWO and Elliot for Marco) so it would be inline with the finished cover I was after. Then did the same for my Author cred.
But having succeeded in this I immediately was emboldened by my success with the displacement map that I went back to book one and FINALLY put the long missing Jersey number back on it!
I do still have to come up with Volume 3 (insert mystery character here – no spoilers this time).
Until next time… Happy Writing and Designing!
Shout Out to my musical muse – JAY BRANNAN! I constantly play his music while I do anything Angels related. He hasn’t steered me wrong yet. He might argue that he hasn’t steered me at all. I love the shit outta his work anyway.
Who knew? I know I sure as hell didn’t.
Now, you might be thinking, and rightly so, what the hell is he going on about now?
Well, I’ll tell ya.
Sometime last year I began to get quite interested in being a writer. It’s not something new. I’ve had these stories burning in my head – albeit on very far away and distant back burners, mind you – that needed me to get on with the telling.
So last year I began to start writing in earnest. I was writing mostly for me. I still am to a great degree. It doesn’t matter if no one else really likes what I am doing. I like it and that’s the bar I need to hit – as a matter of reference I am never quite satisfied with any creative work I do so that bar is probably a helluva lot higher than any of the critics out there could begin to tear down.
In any event, I began writing.
First it was a story that had been passed back and forth between my husband and myself – an alternate history dealing with Natives from the America’s and the ‘what if’ of a little known and oft missed point in our American past where the British reneged on an agreement that would’ve backed the establishment of a Native nation on the burgeoning American continent. In actuality, there was a small book that my husband introduced me to that dealt with this in an indirect manner – an alternate history of a world where this had come to pass. It detailed, quite well, how Natives would have evolved in western society and applied their precepts and outlook on modern life in an alternate universe that pseudo paralleled our world.
The book was: The Journey of Silas P. Bigelow by Keenan Heise.
It’s a lovely little book that actually grapples with some fairly complex societal mores. I loved the book and I was inspired to write my own “what if” on how I would see Native’s in the bold new modern frontier if they’d been allowed to prosper and evolve unimpeded by the western Europeans.
So I started on that piece and it became quite a behemoth in scope as well as in tone. I decided to table it because so much of it was interesting but it just wasn’t jelling. I was undeterred though – I knew that writing was my thing – I just needed to find the right vehicle to get me started. So that story is on the back burner where it my likely remain for all time. I have the manuscript files, I have the notes and research (which was extensive in both history and in quantum mechanics and native theory on physics in general). Just those pondering alone can point to an over-indulgent exploration that would rival Tolkien’s. To be blunt about it, I wasn’t up to the task (just not then, at any rate).
So that got shunted for another take on Native life – since I am of native descent (my own father coming straight from the rez) I took to writing a different sort of story that was still scientifically based (mostly because I married a real rocket scientist) I wanted to play with the whole – let’s present it as magic (ala Harry Potter but with Indians) only to show by the end that it was all science – just not understood by those who were wielding it what it was. That work is still in progress and has quite a bit amassed already.
But then I got an itch, brought about by Chris Hemsworth’s turn as Thor. I wanted to do something with Viking lore – so I became enamored with the Norse Fae called the Feigr. That iron was put into the fire and I began writing that in earnest too.
I am sure you can see where this is going – a whole shit load of irons in the fire but nothing coming from it.
Enter my Angels: Marco, Elliot and Pietro.
Angels of Mercy had none of the above. When it hit it came like a hurricane and completely sidelined EVERYTHING I was doing. I wrote the first volume of Angels of Mercy in a matter of months. At 205K words it is one helluva tome – and it is only the first of three books in the series. With book one completed (yes, I FINALLY completed something) I began to write volume two (I figured I was on a roll now).
Then NaNoWriMo reared its attractive head – ‘write a novel in a month’ was the challenge. I’d just put the wraps on a 205K novel so the 50K challenge didn’t seem like anything of the sort. So I set aside Marco’s part of the tale in Angels to create another new universe: Werewolves in a fictitious town of Sparrow’s Hollow in 1956 West Virginia. It’s proving to be a bit of fun writing fluff of a horror nature (albeit with a whole lot of gay boy on boy lovin’ thrown in for good measure – I am all about the man on man love fest here in case you hadn’t noticed).
Well, that is about to wrap up (within this week), and I have taken time off to get it accomplished so by the time November 30th rolls around I’ll have my second (if smaller) novel completed.
So, aside from the possible tie-in with werewolves, where does the whole beta thing come in?
Simple. As a writer I found out from my other author pals that betas are invaluable to any author and are worth their weight in gold if they aren’t the sort that will just (as one author put it so eloquently) “cast so much sunshine up your backside that you get a sunburn from it.” So I found out I needed me some beta readers to give me feedback as I began to write and develop my worlds.
Now to be honest, this was something that initially I was toying with. I was always going to write either way. It’s just in me to do so. Yet, here’s the thing: I was curious to a small degree on what someone else thought of my work.
So I began to find others who might read it. I found my first beta in a LGBTQAI support forum board and began to chat him up (no, not in that way – head out of the gutter now), to see how receptive he was about my writing. He admitted that he wasn’t much of a reader to that point because most of what was out there didn’t interest him. But I asked him to read Angels of Mercy and to tell me what he honestly thought. Surprisingly, he did.
While he had praise for the work, which I found so gratifying, he also demonstrated a complete attachment to my boys in the story. As if they meant something to him. I didn’t expect this. I didn’t have a plan for that. But there it was – plain and simple – he loved my world. He loved my boys. And he had thoughts on what was working and what didn’t. I had me my first beta.
He’s golden. He’s one of a kind. He’s thoughtful about my worlds, he’s asked questions and pointed out inconsistencies when they’ve cropped up. In a word, I was gobsmacked. I just didn’t think that anyone would find what I did remotely interesting let alone be just as hooked with them as I was.
I’ve since taken the works to a few others and the response has been rather universal. The work has a certain something. It has some sort of quality that people respond to. My other betas have all said the same sorts of things (with variations on a theme depending on where their own life has taken them). That has been a wonderful thing to take to heart. Sometimes I don’t believe it. It’s just easier from a writing standpoint if there isn’t someone else’s bar in the mix. If it’s my own I can write to that and attempt to impress myself.
My betas? Yeah, that’s a tough one. Not because they’ve kicked me really hard (though they have certainly held my feet to the literary fire when needs be), but because they’ve all consistently gave me the consistent encouragement to press forward. That what I was doing wasn’t in vain or some little silly thing that only I was going to ever read.
In the course of my writing, I discovered that while I write stories with strong gay male figures that contain (amongst other things) a strong romantic element thread, they are not the M/M romance fluff that is out there. I am not disparaging those works – those that find them of interest have a large selection to choose from. As for myself I require more. I require an element of truth that only comes from within. From having lived this life as a gay man. I am not a writer like those of the M/M romance genre. More power to them but I am not of their kind. We may have elements in common but that is where we also diverge from one another.
My betas all seem to be in agreement with me in this. They like that I am not guaranteeing anything when you open one of my books. There is no automatic HEA (Happily Ever After) or HFN (Happy For Now) ending. Because life doesn’t work that way. My worlds, fantastical though they may sometimes be (the Feigr, the “magical” natives, etc) are all rooted in my own or a loved one’s experiences.
This is reflected in the lives of my betas themselves.
Recently one of my beta readers, my very first, a man who I’ve come to count on for a great many reasons ran up against a health concern that had the potential to be life threatening. When that hit I literally almost fell apart. I didn’t write. I stopped cold. The passion drained from me – and this in the middle of the NaNoWriMo contest – not a good thing. But my beta’s life was in the balance. Nothing seemed as important as that. I stewed, I pondered the what if’s – which were many because my husband also had been a practicing physician so I had the 411 on what the potential outcome was even before my new found friend got the official news.
I was gutted.
And let’s be clear – this wasn’t about me. I was overwrought with concern for him. I am not a religious man by any stretch of the imagination. There were no prayers involved. I’m just not built that way to give into the whole ludicrous “no atheist in the foxhole” mentality. Yeah, husband has had his life threatened numerous times so if I was gonna cave on the whole God vs. No-God thing it woulda been back then. But it certainly didn’t mean that I wasn’t going to stop and think about how my bestest friend, my first “fan” (if you will) was faring through a very difficult time.
He dropped off for a while. Little to no communication from him. Wasn’t easy to endure on my end because I wanted to know how he was doing. But I gave him space. I wrote him once to tell him I was here no matter what – it felt so empty to offer that. I wanted to give him back so much more.
That caused a fire to be lit in my belly. I began to focus all of that into my writing. I had taken up the subject of werewolves because of this very person who was struggling with this life threatening illness. I wanted to write something for him since he has a particular fondness for werewolves (along with men). So it was sort of a fun thing I was doing for him. Only now, it had morphed into being for him in ways I never originally envisioned. I recast one of the characters in the book with his name. I dedicated the book to him. It felt so hollow in many respects – so railing against the big thick glass pane that separated us (he in Michigan with me in CA). But I wanted him to know in some small way how much I’ve come to count on his advice. How much his words meant to me.
I never bargained for this when I started out. I never in a million years thought that I’d ever have this to deal with (and Michael, this is NOT a gripe on my part – please believe me). But these people, these generous people who have given me their time and energy in reading my works and giving me “what for” when I went astray, have become so important as I progress and grow as a writer.
I always said I would trade five million five star ratings for one person who deeply felt what I was doing. Michael is that guy. I am writing for him and men/boys like him. Men who need to hear about our worlds from our own. Men who understand what it is like to deal with the world around us that keeps reminding us at every turn we are NOT like them. We are NOT the norm. I welcome anyone who wants to read what I write. I thank them with all the humility and graciousness I can muster. But I am clear about one thing – I write for men like Michael.
A dear friend I met through my writing.
A man who has so much to offer in life.
A thoughtful individual who cares about my boys almost as much as I do – sometimes, more so.
Yeah, turns out, this Alpha writer does need his betas. They might matter most of all.