Okay, so this will not be a blog story week, let me just get this out there right now. No blog story. I've been staring at the same 300 words for so long they're burned onto my retinas, and I'm totally fine with that, by the way. My mentors and I are on the verge of turning in my Pitch Wars submission, which is AMAZING! I've been working like a maniac for the last three months on revising Magical Hazmat, with three rounds of revisions, cutting ten thousand words and adding in another fifteen, and generally getting the five-star treatment from my incredible mentors Janet Walden-West and Anne Raven. #TeamSubversive for the win!
The point is, all my energy has been directed solely at this book for the past week, solid. I've been cutting and shaping and bending words to my purposes, and I'm happy with what I've got, but what I don't have is The Tank today.
However, I do have an excerpt from a short story I'm going to be putting up for free for my lovely readers (YOU, you people, I'm talking about YOU). Some of you might recognize it from its original publication in a Riptide anthology. I also have a solemn vow that next Tuesday will be a story day. The day after that is the day my Pitch Wars submission goes live to agents and editors, so I can assure you that Tuesday will be productive, since Wednesday will be nothing but me staring anxiously at my computer while self-medicating with baking and whiskey. Yeah, I'm classy that way.
Anyhow, on with the excerpt!
The list didn’t change. Jon could see the whiteboard through the porch windows: bullet points written out in Alistair’s stupidly pretty cursive, black and stark and beautiful. Those rules governed the basics of his behavior, from eating to meds to when he should be in bed at night. Thanks to Alistair’s frequent absences for filming and promotion lately, Jon just about had those suckers memorized.
Usually he liked following them. For the most part they did exactly what Alistair had meant them to: they gave Jon a routine, a series of things to do that kept his day from devolving into a chaotic mess of introspection and lost time. Seeing them whenever he glanced in the kitchen prompted him to remember that Alistair wrote them out as a reminder of what they had, and to give him a way to obey even when they weren’t together. Usually they helped.
Today was not one of those times. Right now the rules felt more like a list of chores for a naughty child than guidance for a willing lover, and he was tempted—he was so, so tempted—to fuck off and ignore them. Just this once. As long as he followed the ones that required communication, Alistair would never know. How could he, when he was darting from press event to award ceremony to celebrity interview, so busy promoting Blessed Father that Jon hadn’t seen him for more than three days at a time since December?
It wasn’t fair to think like that. Jon could have gone with Alistair on plenty of the trips. In fact, he was in demand for interviews himself, mostly because he never gave them and he had a reputation for difficulty that made every producer and publicist that much more determined to be the one to get him. He could see the article now: Jon Jones, the playboy son of two renowned artists, fell from grace into addiction. Learn how he clawed his way back to the top, and why he credits it all to Alistair Fraser’s help.
The public wanted to see evidence of his gratitude. They wanted to wallow in his remorse. More than one paparazzo had gone out of their way to get into Jon’s face when he and Al were out together, snapping pictures and shouting questions. Screw them. Jon wasn’t an actor; he was the one writing the script. The only person who got to lay their expectations on him was Al, and he wasn’t here to enforce them in person because tonight was the Oscars. If there was one event Al had to be at this year, it was the Oscars. He was a nominee, after all.
But then, so was Jon.
Jon sighed as he finished his cigarette, out on the porch, of course, because neither of them wanted the smell of smoke in the house. He’d just earned an extra five swats for indulging, but he didn’t care; he needed the nicotine. He felt twitchy, too tight in his skin. He ground the butt into the ashtray and stood up slowly, pleased that he’d gotten away with no nausea this time. Nausea was the one side effect he couldn’t shake of the HIV meds, even with seven years’ practice. The lasting consequences from years of sleepless nights and heavy drinking probably didn’t help the situation, but food and cigarettes, formerly two of his favorite things, were now constant struggles in the disputed territory that was his body.
Jon headed back inside, locked the sliding glass door, and then lowered the blinds. Their house was two hours north of Los Angeles in a quiet, wooded area with few close neighbors, but he didn’t like to take chances with their privacy. There had been too many embarrassing photographic “revelations” over the years to get complacent just because Al was gone. He walked over to the whiteboard and put another check under the Vices column. Frankly, he’d argued vices should be changed to “indulgences” and mostly forgiven, because didn’t everyone deserve to indulge every now and then? Alistair hadn’t bought it though.
He glanced at the grandfather clock on the far wall. It was an enormous, ridiculous thing, with a clanging chime that never failed to wake him up when he didn’t have Alistair home to exhaust him, but Al loved the damn thing. Nearly four o’clock. Plenty of time to take the dog for a walk before the show started. Just because he wasn’t attending the Oscars didn’t mean he didn’t want to watch them, especially since his movie was up for four awards.
“Brutus!” The heavy-bodied black lab darted up from where he’d been napping on his bed and trotted over. “Walk time, dog o’ war.” He patted Brutus on the head and smiled. He still wasn’t quite over Alistair’s insistence on naming the dog Brutus. Alistair was an utter Shakespeare nerd.
Brutus was a new development in their relationship. Alistair had bought him, already two years old and thankfully well trained, at the height of filming Blessed Father when Jon had alternated between nerve-racking visits to the set and sleepless nights at home by himself. He was supposed to be company for Jon, something for him to care for when Alistair couldn’t be there to care for them both.
Goddamn him and his psychobabble, but it had worked, or close enough. Brutus was good company: not too demanding but lovable, and his schedule was as regular as clockwork. Four in the afternoon meant a walk outside, and therefore Jon had to put on actual clothes and act like an adult for half an hour. Not his favorite thing to do, but if it was something he liked doing it wouldn’t need to be on the list.
Did sweatpants count? No obvious stains, and his T-shirt was clean . . . “Close enough,” Jon muttered. “Let’s do this.”
He followed Brutus to the door, slid into a pair of flip-flops, and undid both the dead bolts and the key lock. “Have you got your ball?” Alistair would laugh at Jon asking the dog questions as though he expected an answer, but Jon got his revenge whenever Al slipped into baby talk. “Go get it!”
Brutus ran down the hall and came back with his worn toy.
“Good boy.” He opened the door and stuck his head out onto the veranda of their sprawling Spanish-style home. It was the biggest house he’d ever lived in, and he could have been happy with a lot less, but what this home offered them that so many others hadn’t was a bit of isolation, a buffer zone between their private life and the outside world. Before they’d gotten together, Alistair had lived in the heart of Los Angeles, and Jon knew that he missed the hustle of city life and the energy he got from being around so many people. This house was their compromise: close enough to the city that they could get there for work, but far enough away that Jon didn’t feel like he was suffocating. He could manage in a city—hell, he’d lived in New York for years—but he didn’t really enjoy it anymore. Time and circumstance had transformed him into a recluse.