DiscoverLGBTQ (Fiction)

Best Man



Frank Mercer is a forty-year-old high school math teacher, newly divorced from his husband and struggling to make his mortgage payments. He thinks his problems will be solved by a romance with his old friend Jonathan Butler, a man Frank has secretly admired for over twenty years. But Jonathan is engaged to Marcus Pierce, his unfaithful longtime boyfriend. When Jonathan asks Frank to serve as best man at his wedding, Frank must choose between supporting his friend and speaking from his heart.

Julio Robles is Frank’s roommate and a popular yoga teacher. Julio’s star student is none other than Marcus, Jonathan’s fiancé and Frank’s nemesis. And Marcus has made it clear he’d like more from Julio than yoga lessons. When Frank asks Julio to pretend to be his boyfriend on a dinner date with Jonathan and Marcus, Julio can’t resist accepting the invitation. And finds himself in over his head.

Frank and Julio invent a fake relationship in the face of Marcus and Jonathan’s all-too-real relationship. But which relationship is real, which relationship is fake? Their story leads them to ask themselves fundamental questions about love, friendship, and what it means to be true to one’s partner.

Opening Moves

Last night I dreamed Jonathan and I zigzagged through a sprawling train station. A shadow chased after us. Marcus. He glided through walls and people, gaining on us with ease. We scrambled to the platform. A huge clock, mounted over the departure board, ticked toward midnight. An old-fashioned black steam train waited, puffing, its doors open. Ice encrusted the platform. White steam swirled around us. The crowd blocked our way. The train faded and receded the harder we ran. Each breath I took felt sharper, icier. My lungs burned with dread.

Then I found myself sitting inside the train, at a passenger window. The train chugged along an ocean cliff. It was daytime now. Sunlight poured in through the window and warmed my arm. Jonathan sat asleep, leaning against my shoulder. The hood of his black sweatshirt hid his face. I looked out the window and down at glistening rocks below, sharp and menacing like broken dragon’s teeth. Dizziness overcame me. I focused on the waveless ocean spreading out like porcelain. No birds, no ships, no clouds, no people—nothing but the pallid water and sky merging into a wall of bluish-white. Marcus was out there. I could sense it.

The train picked up speed. The steam engine roared in my ears. The railcar rocked from side to side. I wanted to move, but couldn’t. What were we doing here? Where was this train going? Any second, the train could tip over and send us hurtling down the cliff. I turned to Jonathan, his hood ripped off, his face now revealed. But the man next to me wasn’t Jonathan. The man was Marcus—a grinning, bright-eyed Marcus.

“Thought you could escape?” His hand came to my throat and squeezed, his eyes a searing blue. “You never will, Frank.”

I awoke with a cough and a shudder, my hand to my throat. My bare feet hung off the cushions of the ratty love seat in my sun room. My miniature chess set, the one I’d used to work out a problem last night, sat on a low table in front of me. The Lewis chess pieces sat in their positions, facing off against each other with staring bug eyes. Goose bumps crawled over me even though two blankets and a sheet stuck to me like shrink-wrap against the January cold. I’d hurtled back into the waking world, leaving the phantom of Marcus behind.

Feeble light spilled into the room through the cracks in the blinds. I disentangled myself from my covers, sat up, and put on my glasses. School would be starting in a couple of hours. Had I finished correcting those tests I’d brought home on Thursday? No, wait a second. Today wasn’t a school day. Today was Saturday. Today was the day I’d be seeing Jonathan at the San Francisco Ferry Building. I hadn’t seen him in six months. Not since my divorce from Ethan. Jonathan had called me out of the blue on Wednesday night, asking if I could see him. No wonder I’d dreamed last night of Marcus chasing me, grabbing me by the throat.

I groped for my wristwatch, taking care not to knock over the chess pieces. What time was it? I brought the watch to my face and squinted. I couldn’t make out the numbers. Then my mother’s old grandfather clock, which I’d inherited last year after she died, chimed the lonely hours. I listened to the slow, leaden bongs ripple through the downstairs rooms. The clock issued five bongs, then a sixth bong from its oaken heart. I snapped to attention. Six o’clock already? My roommate Julio was usually up at six o’clock on Saturdays. What would he say if he saw his landlord sleeping down here like this? He already must think I was eccentric, maybe even insane. I ached to think he could be right.

I scrambled to stand up, my bare toes touching the freezing floorboards. Into the closet went the sheets and blanket. No time to move the chessboard. I tucked the notebook under my arm and shut the sunroom door behind me. A creak of floor boards above my head froze me in place. Julio’s footsteps in his room. I stole up the stairs two at a time and shut myself in my bedroom, taking care not to slam the door. Could Julio have heard me race up the stairs, shut myself in my room? My face flushed as if he had.

Now came the waking nightmare—the thirty minutes I had to wait in this cursed bedroom until Julio left the house. He was only my roommate, a nice guy as far as I could tell, but he felt like an intruder, a stranger who gave me a rent check. I wrapped myself in a bathrobe and assumed my usual position at my writing desk, facing away from my king-sized bed, and closed my eyes.

The plain comforter behind me stretched out in my mind like the ocean in last night’s dream. I pictured it as an unbroken field of emptiness that concealed writhing, thrashing memories of what had happened there while I’d been out of the house teaching high school calculus. Ethan and that other man, now his new partner. Their wrestling naked bodies seared across my mind’s eye as vividly as ever, the awful image rising up like a sea monster from the depths of last night’s dream-ocean. I could never sleep in that bed again.

The pipes groaned in the walls between my bedroom and the bath. Julio was in the shower. I listened and waited. Soon the pipes quieted down. The bathroom fan whirred. Then silence. Julio must be in his bedroom—packing his gym bag, dabbing his short, black hair with gel. What garish color would he wear to teach yoga today—lavender, aqua, apricot-orange? I pictured him as a bright little star moving through the leaden air of this house, oblivious to the sadness that lay like packed asbestos beneath the floorboards, between the cracks in the walls. Thank God he hadn’t seen me in the sunroom.

His feet clomped down the stairs. Then the back door opened and slammed shut. I stole to my bedroom window. Under a pale blue sky, the rising sun tinged the housetops pink-orange. Soon Julio came into view. His jaunty step took him down the sidewalk away from the house, his gym bag bouncing on his shoulder. He wore the aqua today. For four months I’d willed myself not to notice Julio’s habits—to learn as little about him as possible. It was enough to know he was heading toward the BART station, on his way to San Francisco to teach yoga, and wouldn’t come home until around two. The house would be mine until I left to meet Jonathan in San Francisco.

I went downstairs and put on a pot of coffee. The windows above the sink glowed with sunshine—not the sickly, implacable sunlight from last night’s dream, but light more suitable to meet old friends. For the umpteenth time I ran in my mind Jonathan’s phone call of three nights ago. An edge in his voice led me to think he had important news to confide. Did I dare hope that maybe, after almost twenty years of putting up with Marcus and his abuse, Jonathan had finally had enough? If so, I was ready to rescue him. I could even picture bringing him home with me. Then maybe my house would once again teem with love and good cheer, the very windows shining brighter in the glow of Jonathan’s presence. But then I remembered Marcus from last night’s dream. Thought you could escape? You never will, Frank.

• • •

Footsteps on the back stairs made me jump. Who could that be? Then the kitchen door swung open, and Julio, out of breath, rushed into the house. He stopped short. His nipple ring showed beneath his tight aqua jacket. I half-turned from him, my insides seizing up, thinking he’d pulled a prank on me.

“Hey, Frank, I had to come back for my—ah, there it is.” Julio’s eyes lit on his neon-purple iPod on the counter next to the sink. He went over and picked it up. “I can’t believe I left it behind.”

“Good thing you remembered it,” I said, turning my head. If I’d spotted the iPod lying there, then maybe I would’ve gone upstairs again, to wait for Julio to retrieve it.

He stuffed the iPod into his gym bag, slung the bag over his shoulder, and went to the door. I rose and opened the cabinet where the coffee mugs hung on hooks. I sensed him standing by the door, watching me. I pretended not to notice him, but I couldn’t keep the pretense up for long. I turned and looked at him with a frown.

“Sorry.” He darted his eyes away and then looked at me again with a half-smile, almost as if he were about to burst out laughing. “I don’t think I’ve seen you wear glasses before.”

“Most people don’t see these,” I said, reaching up and adjusting my square, black-rimmed glasses. “I usually put on my contacts first thing in the morning.”

“You look different in them,” Julio said in a bright voice that ran like a cheese grater along my nerves. “They make you look—distinguished.”


“Gosh,” Julio said, hugging his arms to his chest in a mock shiver, “it’s not too cold in here for you, is it?”

“I’m leaving the house in a few minutes myself,” I said, my body tense. “Besides I like it on the cool side. But you can always turn the heat on when you’re here by yourself.”

“I know,” Julio said, nodding. “I hope you’re going out soon. It’s warm in the sun today.”

“Glad to hear it,” I said, turning away from him to end the conversation. Of course it would be warm in the sun. What else would it be?

After Julio left, I went upstairs to shower and change into my contacts. The next hurdle was what to wear. I slipped on a gray T-shirt and an old olive green V-neck to wear over it. Blue jeans instead of the khakis I usually wore to school. I looked myself over in the closet mirror and confirmed I looked ordinary, not tempting, not threatening. A friend and nothing more.

On my way out the door I realized I’d forgotten the chess set on the table in the sunroom. Julio didn’t know about the hours I spent working on chess problems. It would mortify me if he knew I did little else with my free time. But I didn’t have time to hide the board upstairs or else I’d miss the BART train. So I moved the set to the sunroom’s closet shelf, again taking care not to disturb the pieces. Then I made it to the Rockridge BART station in the nick of time. Jonathan, here I come.

• • •

Two rows of vegetable stalls, crowded with people, lined the gray building stretching out on either side of the Ferry Building’s clock tower. I hadn’t realized the Ferry Building hosted a farmers’ market on Saturday mornings. The setting wasn’t nearly as intimate as the one I’d imagined. I peered up and down the Embarcadero trying to look like I belonged here. Then I saw Jonathan. Alone. No Marcus.

His tall, thin frame was bent over a long metal bicycle rack. He was locking up his silver bike, his rolled-up left pant leg revealing a firm, white calf. Of course he’d ride his bike over here. He’d also brought his good camera, wearing it on a shoulder strap. Maybe Jonathan planned to take close-up shots of vegetables for his next collage. Leave it to him to tease out the hidden beauty of beet leaves and Brussels sprouts.

Jonathan rolled down his pant leg, straightened up, and squinted into the crowd, craning his long neck. When he spotted me, his face lit up as if his troubles were over. My insides lit up, thinking my own troubles were over too—or if not over, at least survivable.

“Geez, Frank.” Jonathan moved his camera out of the way to give me a badly needed hug. “I’m so glad you could make it. It’s been so long. How long’s it been anyway?”

“I’ve been trying to remember myself,” I said, although, in fact, I could name the exact day I’d last seen him. “I think it was June, remember? When you guys came to Oakland for a visit right after my mom died?”

“It’s been that long?” A look of concern passed over his face. “What a lousy friend I’ve been.”

“No, you haven’t.” I put on a brave smile. “I haven’t exactly been putting myself out there lately.”

“We’re together now,” Jonathan said, his eyes bright. “Maybe we’ll have more chances to see each other in the new year.”

He clasped my shoulder and smiled, taking in the sight of me. The only difference between today and the day I first met him at the youth group in Santa Cruz twenty-two years ago were crinkle lines in the corners of his soft brown eyes and strands of gray threading through the brown of his short, disheveled hair. We’d both turned forty last year—me in July, him in November. After everything I’d lost in the past year, at least I could say I hadn’t lost Jonathan.

“How were your holidays?” Jonathan said, his tone cheerful. “You go down to Santa Cruz?”

“For the long weekend.”

“Your sister and dad hanging in there?” Jonathan’s expression turned serious.

“I guess so,” I said. “They miss my mom.”

“I bet, I bet.” Jonathan’s voice was soft and full of sympathy. “I always liked your mom. Tough and formal, but kind of sweet, you know?”

My mother’s last days played out in my mind. Her head had lain like a shriveled apple against the pillows, her ashen face framed by an aureole of dyed reddish-brown hair. Her skin had stretched like rice paper against her high cheekbones. Wendy and I had spent countless hours at her bedside. Once or twice Mom had fluttered her eyelids awake, looked straight at me with watery gray eyes, and then closed them again without recognizing me. The funeral had been a mercy after that.

“At least she’s not suffering anymore.” I managed to keep a tremor out of my voice. “So, um, you want to go eat breakfast somewhere? Or maybe go inside for a cup of coffee?”

“Coffee?” Jonathan looked up at the Ferry Building. “Sure, let’s go inside.”

I trailed him through the high archway into the building. People mobbed the shops and stalls, their voices echoing off the high ceilings. Jonathan made his way to the line for coffee, while I staked out seats at a large table near the exit. I used a discarded napkin to wipe the grit off the wooden surface and waited. This was not the cozy coffee shop I’d envisioned. Jonathan made me uneasy besides. He seemed distracted, in a hurry, as if I were only one of his agenda items for a long and busy Saturday. My reasoning mind told me he wouldn’t be announcing he was leaving Marcus for good.

Jonathan came to the table, holding two coffees, a small white paper bag, and his camera. He put the camera on the table, sat down, and pulled out two slices of banana bread. For a second I permitted myself to imagine we were a married couple, sharing breakfast on a Saturday morning. If I had started dating Jonathan twenty years ago like I should’ve, maybe that’s the breakfast we’d be having today. And Marcus would mean nothing more to us than one of the blank-faced strangers walking past our table.

“Here,” Jonathan said, sliding one of the banana bread slices toward me on a napkin. “They were the last ones left, so I figured I’d take them both.”

“Thanks.” I pushed in my chair. “So does this mean you don’t have time for a real breakfast somewhere?”

“No, sorry.” Jonathan shook his head with a regretful look. “Marcus and I are taking the ferry to Sausalito this morning. He’s meeting me here in about an hour.”

“Oh.” I looked down and removed the lid from my coffee.

“I’d forgotten Marcus and I were supposed to meet friends up there today,” Jonathan said, his voice dipping. “I thought of calling you to put it off for another week, but then I thought, ‘Geez, if I don’t see him this weekend, then something else’ll come up.’ And it’s already been too long. How long did you say it’s been?”


“June, geez.” Jonathan sighed. “Where does the time go? Marcus and I are so busy on weekends, I feel like I don’t have the time anymore even to think.”

Jonathan smiled and sipped his coffee. I sensed Jonathan preparing to ask about Ethan and the divorce. With my thumb I traced the base of my left ring finger, where my wedding ring used to be. I’d sold the ring over a year ago, at the tawdriest-looking pawn shop I could find.

“So, um, Ethan. It’s all legal?” Jonathan said, looking up. “The papers are signed and filed?”

“Yep, last September,” I said, drawing in a long breath.

“What about the house?” Jonathan’s look and tone were dead serious. “You keeping it?”

“Trying to,” I said in a matter-of-fact tone. “But buying out Ethan wasn’t cheap. The house went way up in value since we bought it. If I sell the house I’ll have to give him a cut of the proceeds.”

“The house isn’t too big for you?” Jonathan pulled in his chair and leaned close to me.

“I’m too attached to it.” I sipped my coffee. “My dad lent me money. I also signed up to be the chess coach at my high school, so that’s a few more dollars. And I’m renting out one of my extra bedrooms.”

“Oh,” Jonathan said, his voice dropping off. Not even he could put a positive spin on my new living situation.

“I’m not jumping for joy about it either,” I said in a rueful tone. “But it was either rent out a room or lose the house.”

“Do you like your roommate, at least?”

“I hardly ever see him,” I said, grateful to be talking about Julio and not about myself or the house. “He’s a yoga instructor. Nice guy. A little loopy, but he cleans up after himself and mostly stays in his room banging away at his laptop. He pays the rent on time. That’s what matters.”

“For sure,” Jonathan said, and nodded.

My watch read a quarter to eleven. Marcus would be here in fifteen minutes, maybe even sooner. I didn’t come all the way here to talk about myself.

“How about you?” I said, looking up. “Everything okay? When you called me earlier this week, you gave me the impression you wanted to tell me something.”

“Oh!” Jonathan said, sitting up. “Um…yeah.”

Then I heard a buzz under the table. Jonathan’s cell phone. He scrambled to fish it out of his front pocket. My heart sank.

“He’s on his way here,” Jonathan said, putting his phone away. “I told him we’d meet him out front. You feel like walking around?”

Not especially, I felt like saying. Instead I popped the last of my banana bread into my mouth and followed Jonathan outside. Not at all what I’d imagined would happen today. In my mind a chessboard spread out in front of me like the dream-ocean. An army of wooden pieces surrounded me, fencing me in place. The next move belonged to Marcus.

• • •

We didn’t have to wait long for him. Even with the crowds thronging the vegetable booths, I had no trouble spotting Marcus coasting to the curb on his cherry-red bike, wearing gold-tinted aviator glasses and a bright yellow track jacket zipped halfway up. He chained his bike and then strode up to us, his broad shoulders pulled back, his muscular chest puffed out, his jacket clinging to him like a second skin. He looked as if he meant to outshine the sun itself.

“Hey, stranger, nice to see you again!” Marcus said, his smile broad and pearly.

“Marcus,” I said evenly, shaking his hand. My dislike of him sloshed through me on a wave of nausea.

He wore his light-brown hair short and straight up with gel. Blond highlights speckled the top of each strand. His long, square sideburns were perfectly even, and a small thatch of hair covered the end of his chin. He was a few years older than Jonathan and me, but he could’ve passed for under forty, maybe even under thirty-five. I remembered my dream, how confidently he’d gripped my throat.

“So,” Marcus said beaming, bringing his arm around Jonathan’s waist and hooking his finger around the belt strap of Jonathan’s blue jeans, “did Jonathan tell you our big news?”

“I was about to tell him,” Jonathan said, embarrassed. “But then you called.”

“What big news?” I said in as steady a voice as I could manage.

“After all these years of living in sin,” Marcus said, squeezing his arm around Jonathan’s waist, “we’re finally making it official. We’re getting married!”

Getting what? The news ripped through my chest like a bullet. Jonathan looked at me with a frozen smile as if hoping for my approval. But what could I approve? What could I even say? And to think I’d been looking forward to this morning, had been clinging to the idea of Jonathan as my salvation, the answer to everything that had gone wrong in my life. All for this.

“Oh—congratulations,” I forced myself to say. I looked from one to the other of them, not knowing what to say next. My eyelid twitched. “When’s the big day?”

“October,” Marcus said, letting go of Jonathan’s waist. “We haven’t picked the exact date yet.”

“And of course you’re invited,” Jonathan put in, as if to reassure me.

“Sure, sure,” I said, feeling for my missing wedding ring with my thumb. “So where are you thinking of having the ceremony? City Hall or something?”

“Actually,” Marcus said, smiling at Jonathan, “that’s the other part of our news. Have you told him yet, Jonathan?”

“No, not yet,” Jonathan said again, his voice trailing off.

“What news?” I said. My body went cold with the same dread I’d felt last night in my dream.

“We’re having the ceremony in New York,” Marcus said to me, his smile widening to its full wattage. The clock on the Ferry Building read twenty minutes past eleven, but on Marcus’s face, the time was high noon. “This time next year we’ll be living there.”

I looked at Marcus with my mouth open, too stunned to say a word. So not only was Marcus planning to marry Jonathan, he was planning to sweep Jonathan away to the East Coast. And here I’d thought his engagement announcement was checkmate. This was checkmate on top of checkmate.

“So you’ll be living right in New York City?” I said, collecting myself. “Manhattan? Brooklyn?”

“Westchester.” Marcus pronounced the word as if delivering an extra kick to my stomach. “We’re having a house there gutted and refurbished.”

“Oh.” I did my best to sound interested. “And when will you be moving?”

“We hope by the end of the year.” Marcus’s face shone with self-satisfaction. “Originally we thought we’d rent it out and move there after we retired. But then we figured, why not move sooner? Besides, our new house is shaping up to be fabulous. We don’t have to work that hard anymore either. Even if I want to keep working, my firm’s headquarters are in New York. I’m sure I can transfer. And if I can’t, I’m sure there are plenty of people in Manhattan who need their money managed.”

“Makes sense,” I brought myself to say, wondering what it must be like to have the choice to work part-time.

“And I’ll find some IT job to keep myself busy,” Jonathan said, sounding like he hadn’t thought out his future life in New York as thoroughly as Marcus had.

“Or maybe,” Marcus said, drawing out the word maybe, “you’ll use the extra time to develop one of your app games. Or work on your photography. There are millions of things you can take pictures of in New York City.”

The edge to Marcus’s pleasant tone made me think they’d argued about this. By the look on Jonathan’s face I could tell he wanted to stay put. No question Marcus had coerced Jonathan into agreeing to all this. California was all Jonathan knew.

“How’s your photography going, by the way?” I said. “That looks like a new camera you’re carrying.”

“Marcus gave me this for Christmas,” Jonathan said in the far-off voice he used when talking about himself and his talents. “I’ve managed some lucky shots in here and there.”

“You should see his latest project,” Marcus said, his tone enthusiastic. “He’s been taking pictures of martini glasses.”

“Martini glasses?” I said. “Like martini glasses in bars?”

“No,” Marcus said, beaming, “martini-glass neon signs you see in bar windows. Jonathan started noticing them everywhere we went in the city. So he made a project this past summer of taking as many pictures of them as he could find.”

“Nice.” I looked at Jonathan, impressed. “That must’ve been a lot of legwork.”

“Marcus drove me everywhere I needed to go,” Jonathan said, giving me a bashful smile. “It’s not my project. It’s our project.”

“I’m glad to be a part of it,” Marcus said, sounding as if he meant it. “He’ll have to show the pictures to you sometime.”

“I’d like that,” I said to Jonathan. I wished it had been me who’d driven him around last summer.

“The new house is going to have a dark room,” Marcus said, grinning. His smile wasn’t anywhere as evil as it had been in my dream, but I sensed some gleeful malice behind it. “That’s my gift to Jonathan for the cold winters he’ll be putting up with.”

“Oh, a darkroom,” I said to Jonathan in an encouraging tone, not quite understanding why I should be encouraging him. “You’ve always wanted one of those.”

They both looked at me, Marcus beaming, Jonathan with a tight smile. Perhaps they were waiting for me to say something more. Or show more excitement for their grand plans. Instead I glanced up at the Ferry Building clock and wondered how much more of their perfect lives I could take.

• • •

“So how’s everything with you, Frank?” Marcus said. His tone of voice wavered between concern and condescension.

“Fine,” I said, slipping my hands into my coat pockets. “The house is fine, school is fine. I’m coaching the chess team this year for extra money.”

“Glad to hear it,” Marcus said, and hesitated. “And, um—are you seeing anybody?”

“Marcus, geez!” Jonathan said, turning to him.

“What’s the big deal?” Marcus shrugged. “You yourself were wondering last night if Frank was seeing someone new.”

In that instant, I knew that Marcus and Jonathan were still friends with Ethan, were perhaps “the friends” they would be meeting in Sausalito later on this afternoon. Marcus’s words burrowed into my skin, goading me to admit I was alone. I imagined Marcus repeating everything I said to Ethan over drinks. My face burned at the idea of Ethan and his new partner, talking about poor, lonely Frank.

“As a matter of fact,” I said boldly, looking at Marcus square in the eye, “I am seeing someone new.”

“You are?” Marcus said, giving a start. Then he recovered and flashed a smile. “Good for you, Frank. Anyone we know?”

Ouch. I should’ve known he’d ask me that. I glanced up at the clock tower, picturing Marcus sitting across from me at a chessboard, confidently putting me in check. How much more time was there before they had to board that ferry? Too much. Quick, Frank. Think of someone you can say you’re dating.

“He’s—he’s a yoga instructor,” I blurted out, still looking at the clock.

“Your roommate?” Jonathan said, his eyes widening.

“Yes, my roommate,” I said, and looked at Jonathan. My heart raced. “That’s how it started anyway. But one thing led to another, and—and here we are.”

“Huh,” Marcus said, giving me a funny look. “What’s his name?”

“Julio.” I felt for my missing wedding ring in my coat pocket. Marcus had played me like a chess grandmaster, seizing on my blunder and taking control of the game. And I knew it.

“Julio?” Marcus said staring. “You don’t mean Julio Robles, do you?”

“Yes, him,” I mumbled, my mouth dry.

“Well, what do you know?” Marcus drew himself up, looking at me up and down as if regarding me with new eyes. “I came from Julio’s yoga class this morning.”

I shifted from one foot to the other to keep from caving to the sidewalk. I knew Marcus pumped iron. I knew Marcus swam laps. Since when had Marcus taken up yoga classes? Of all the chess blunders I’d ever made, this one was by far the brashest. What had I done?

“He’s a great teacher, Julio,” Marcus went on. “His class is so fun that I forget how hard he makes us work. He’s sweet too. Charismatic. After one of his classes, I feel like I can conquer the world.”

“Mm,” I said, thinking the last thing the world needed was Marcus conquering it.

“He has a whole following of students, you know,” Marcus said casually. “His class is packed every Saturday. I have to go twenty minutes early to find a spot on the floor for my mat.”

“Yes, I know he’s popular,” I said, attempting an insulted tone as if to say of course I knew that. But beneath my flat expression I sensed an army of Lewis chess pieces rising up and looming over me, staring at me with bug eyes. How could I unsay what I’d said about Julio?

“We should have Frank and Julio over for dinner,” Marcus said, looking at Jonathan. “Weren’t you saying the other day we’ve never had Frank over to the house? We’ve been living there for over a year.”

“I don’t know,” Jonathan said sounding worried, and then, in a lighter tone of voice, quipped, “I wouldn’t want to subject them to my cooking.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Marcus said. “Everyone knows you’re a great cook. Everyone but you, that is. You’ve been talking for months about how we should invite Frank to one of our dinner parties. Why not now?”

“Maybe,” Jonathan said, and gave me a timid look. “You think you guys’d be up for dinner at our house?”

“Um.” My breath was coming fast. Dinner! “We’re at the beginning stages of our relationship. I’m not ready to start introducing him to people.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Marcus said, his look and voice exuding false friendliness. “I already know Julio. I’d love to spend time with him outside of yoga class. Jonathan’s been talking about having you over for ages. Haven’t you, Jonathan?”

“But if you’d rather not,” Jonathan said, looking me in the eye.

What pierced my heart was the kindliness bordering on pity in Jonathan’s voice. It was as if he knew I’d lied and was throwing me a lifeline. I could almost bear the thought of Marcus knowing I’d lied. But Jonathan? Never.

“Sure, why not,” I said.

“You’re sure?” Jonathan said, his eyebrows raised and his eyes wide.

“Of course I’m sure.” I gave him a tight smile. “You can show me your martini pictures.”

“And pictures of our new house,” Marcus said. “How does next Saturday sound?”

“Next Saturday, uh—sure, let’s do it next Saturday.” I rubbed my bare ring finger. “Let us know what you want us to bring.”

“Just bring yourselves,” Marcus said in a smooth voice, “and we’ll take care of the rest.”

The smile he gave was exactly as it had been in the train car of last night’s dream, radiant, gleeful, triumphant. A smile that could outshine the sun. Marcus hadn’t spoken in vain when he boasted of conquering the world. He’d certainly conquered me. I imagined him reaching to grab my throat and holding me fast, leaving me no hope of rescue, no way out.

Rescue did come, though, in the form of the clock tower striking the hour. The ferry had arrived and was loading passengers. I bade Marcus and Jonathan goodbye, told them I’d see them next Saturday, and headed for the BART station. It was a relief to be alone again. But my ears rang with those last words of Marcus’s. We’ll take care of the rest.

Of course he’d take care of the rest. His army was in place, my own king rashly exposed. By this time next week Marcus would discover my lie and deliver a coup de grâce more humiliating than any checkmate I’d received at a chessboard. I pictured Julio rushing into the house this morning for his iPod. The way he smiled at me with those large white teeth of his. What would I say to him? How could I even look him in the face? I pictured my mother, her lips pursed in distaste at my blunder. Not since my final days with Ethan had I dreaded going home so much. But I had nowhere else to go.

About the author

Chris Delyani is the author of The Love Thing (2009) and You Are Here (2012). In 2013 You Are Here won the Writer's Digest Self-Published Book Award in the General Fiction category. He lives in Oakland, California. view profile

Published on June 01, 2019

Published by

100000 words

Contains explicit content ⚠️

Worked with a Reedsy professional 🏆

Genre: LGBTQ (Fiction)

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