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Gay Romance Contemporary

A squeal woke me with a jolt. I ducked down, waiting for the explosion. Only the digital voice overhead announcing the next terminal number reminded me where I was. It took two deep breaths to calm my racing heart. Another to clear my vision. One more to focus. The train. I was on the train headed west. Two more stops and I could get off.


 The cooling system couldn’t keep up with the overcrowding, and the heat became oppressive. Sweaty bodies pressed together, and the stench made me huddle further down in my seat. I drew my hoodie over my nose to filter the smell. Nobody wanted me to remove my sweatshirt—my face was enough to make people uneasy—so I sweated like the rest of them. My duffle bag rested beside me as an added deterrent for anyone brave enough to sit next to me. Usually one glance my way was all it took to have them looking for another available seat.


Civilian life hadn’t been kind to me so far. People saw what they wanted to see, never looking deeper than the surface. As much as I wanted to say it was their problem—not mine—their problem had started to bleed over into my life. It was time for a change. Somewhere I wouldn’t have to deal with people regularly like I did in the city.


I closed my eyes again when the train lurched forward to the next destination. I lay awake last night, running through all possible scenarios—a hard-to-shake habit left over from the military. 


Insomnia had become a familiar friend since returning home from overseas. I knew it wouldn’t be the last sleepless night. Some things stayed with you a lifetime—things nightmares were made of. So, I let the sway of the train lull me back to sleep to catch every wink I could. 


“Is this seat taken?” I jerked awake. My hand automatically went to my side, searching for a nonexistent weapon. I glanced around, assessing the threat. No enemy with a hidden bomb lurked behind the old, crackled seats, so I settled and looked up at the one fearless enough to talk to the monster.


Pink hair caught my eye first. The tips—just a shade darker than the rest—reminded me of the bubblegum I used to love as a kid. The pastel strands stuck up haphazardly about his head, as if someone had run their fingers through it and pulled. Since my hair was the standard issue military cut, I couldn’t relate to the frustrated or anxious habit. Or maybe it was from a lover who grabbed it in the throes of passion. Either way, it suited him.


Dark coal and thick lashes framed startling ice-blue eyes—a contrast to the pink hair. Perfect pale skin with a hint of blush graced dimpled cheeks, the makeup subtle. But what made me sit up in my seat was the bright smile. No one smiled at me. Looks of pity I was used to. People diverting their eyes—acting as if they hadn’t noticed me—I could deal with. Smiles, as if someone was happy to see me, left me uncomfortable. 


“Ye…” I cleared my froggy throat and tried again. “Yes.” 


His shoulders drooped, and the smile fell from his face. “Oh, well, okay.” He turned, looking around the crowded car.


I don’t know what possessed me to entertain letting him have the seat. I had no problem turning others away, but something in me wanted to wipe away his look of disappointment. 


“Hey, yeah. You can sit here. Sorry. You just startled me.” 


His face transformed into genuine happiness, and I liked it. “No problem. I couldn’t tell if you were asleep. Kind of hard to sleep in all this.” He gestured around to the noisy car. 


I grabbed the duffle and stuck it between my legs as far under the seat in front of me as it would go. It contained little other than a few changes of clothes and some toiletries.


He plopped down and swung his rainbow-colored bag into his lap. “Thanks. I’ve been train hopping since Wednesday. Most haven’t been this crowded. Makes sense, though. I guess people are taking advantage of the long weekend and getting out of town.” 


He stuck out his manicured hand, complete with pink polish that matched his hair. “Hi, I’m Jordan.”


I stared at his hand. My hesitation didn’t seem to faze him as he watched me. “Well, don’t leave me hanging.” He wiggled his fingers.


My hand curled into a tight—an involuntary reflex I’d gained when one too many people recoiled at the sight of my mangled flesh.


He looked at me expectantly. I grasped his hand in mine and searched his face, waiting for the repulsion or wince I expected. “Scott.”


Somehow, his smile got wider as he pumped our hands up and down. “Nice to meet you, Scott.”


We stared at each other for a few minutes before I reluctantly let go. I had little feeling in my right hand, but—whether it was a trick of my brain or residual memories—I could still feel the warmth of his skin on mine long after I shoved my hand back into my hoodie pocket.


The train pulled away from the station, and we settled in our seats. After a few minutes, Jordan began rooting around in his bag. “Would you like a snack?” He held up an apple and what looked like homemade peanut butter crackers. “I’ve got an extra water bottle if you’d like that too. We have—”he glanced at his glittery watch—“six hours to kill.”


My first instinct was to refuse. Life had taught me you didn’t accept anything from strangers, and it wasn’t limited to candy. But somehow, I knew he meant me no harm. My stomach rumbled in agreement.


He laughed. “Sounds like you could use it.” He pulled out a water and handed it to me with the apple. “So, how long have you been on here?” 


“Early this morning.”


“Do you have much further to go?” He took a bite of a cracker, and I watched in rapt attention as he licked the peanut butter from his plump lips.


I cleared my throat. “Uh, one more stop. Wyoming.”


“I’m heading to California. I decided it was time for a change.” He looked down at his bag, fiddling with the zipper. He seemed to catch himself and turned his smile back to me. “What about you? Seeing family? Or maybe a significant other?”


I didn’t make it a habit to talk to people. It wasn’t difficult since most avoided anything more than ‘as needed’ with me anyway, and I certainly didn’t engage in a personal exchange of information. But something about him made me want to spill my life’s story.


“I needed a change too. And no, there’s no one.” There’d been someone waiting for me when I came home. But when he realized even plastic surgery wouldn’t make the scars go away, he left. I couldn’t say I blamed him. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be stuck with me either. Not all my wounds were superficial.


“Wow, we have two things in common then.” He gestured to my bag. “Military or just for looks?” 


“Military.”


“Oh, really? What branch? My uncle retired from the Army. He raised me when my parents were killed in a car accident. So, I guess you could call me an Army brat.” He laughed. It was the sweetest sound, the kind that had you smiling whether or not you wanted to. I felt the tug of the scar on my cheek as my lips lifted in response.


“Discharged two years ago. Sorry about your parents.” 


He waved away my comment. “Don’t feel sorry for me. I was a baby, only a couple months old when it happened. My uncle was an amazing man. They granted him emergency leave, and he took me in right away. He treated me as if I was his son. I couldn’t have asked for a better parent.” A bit of his light dimmed as sadness washed over him, and his voice softened. “He passed away six months ago. We moved around a lot when I was growing up, so it wasn’t difficult to pick things up and go. There wasn’t anything left for me there.”


I wanted to reach out and comfort him, but my insecurities prevented me. “Losing someone is never easy, especially when you’re close.” I knew what it was like to lose your parents. “My own kicked me out at sixteen when they found out I was gay.”


A flash of surprise flitted across his face before he quickly recovered. “I’m sorry. No child should have anything less than unconditional love.” 


I shifted in my seat, uncomfortable with the memories. “Not all of us are that fortunate. I learned to live with it a long time ago.”


We sat quietly for a few minutes, each of us lost in our own thoughts. “Military life can be tough on a lot of families.”


“Not us. We loved it. Seeing different parts of the world, meeting new people. Sometimes it was fun, sometimes not so much. But for the most part, it was good. Some places weren’t as accepting of me as others, but my uncle always stood up for my right to be, well”—he gestured up and down his body—”me.”


“He sounds like he was a good man. I’m glad you had him in your life. Few of us can say the same.”


He looked like he wanted to ask questions but let it drop. “Oh, trust me. I know how lucky I am. He could have put me in foster care, but he chose to keep me, and he was young himself—barely getting started in his career. He never married. He said he would marry when he found a woman good enough to accept me as her own. Of course, he never really dated either. Kind of hard to do with a kid and military life.” He shrugged his petite shoulders. “I tried to set him up a few times with some of the single moms at my school. Didn’t work out too well.” He giggled, the musical sound easing the mood. 


He continued talking, telling me funny stories about school and boyfriends. Times he infuriated his uncle but never doubted his love for him. I sat and listened, enjoying the lilt of his voice. Never once did he ask me about my scars.


“Oh man, I’m sorry. I’ve been talking your ears off. You probably want to get some rest.”


“No, I enjoy hearing your stories. It’s helped calm my nerves.” 


He babbled on, making me laugh at some of his more outrageous tales. His animation kept me enthralled not only with his stories but the man himself. Before I knew it, the train came to a stop at my station.


I grabbed my bag from under the seat and held it in my lap, reluctant to move. “Well, this is it.”


“Have dinner with me,” he blurted out, surprising us both.


“I thought you were going to California.”


“I am, but my next train doesn’t leave for a few hours. We could have dinner and talk some more. I’m not ready to let you go just yet.” He laid his hand on top of my scarred one.


The idea of spending time with him appealed to me in a way nothing had in a long time, and with his hopeful expression, I couldn’t say no. “Okay.”


Three years later…


“Here, grab my hand, and I’ll pull you up. Be careful. The rocks are slippery.” I braced myself and reached down towards Jordan.


He raised his hand, the purple glittery polish sparkling in the sun. It matched the dye in his hair. I learned early on he liked to ‘keep things exciting’ by changing his hair color often. I didn’t mind. I loved him in every shade, but pink would always be my favorite.


With a tug, I pulled him up onto the ledge overlooking a pool of water. “Oh, my god! This is amazing. I’ve never seen something so beautiful before. Of all the places we’ve been, this is the best.” He wrapped an arm around my waist.


Our dinner turned into me buying a train ticket from Wyoming to California. By the time the train pulled into the station, we agreed to see each other, which later turned into sharing an apartment, and then married all within a year’s time. 


He drew me to him like the oceans’ tides pulled by the moon—steady and never ending. He said the same about me. Where others saw a monster, he saw beauty, and he never let me forget it. No matter how much I tried to push him away, or told him he deserved better, he would only shake his head and keep loving me. He was more than I ever thought I deserved, but now could never let go.


We decided every six months we’d take a trip, whether it was only driving distance or a train ride away. He wanted to see new places, and I wanted to see them through his eyes. Eyes that only saw beauty in the world.


I glanced around from our perch. Rocks jutted from along the cliff, their moss-covered edges peeking from beneath the water. A waterfall plummeted into a pool so blue it almost looked unnatural. The roar of the fall drowned out any surrounding sound, and a rainbow formed when the sun hit the spray, creating a colorful arc over the pool. How appropriate. 


We stared at the beautiful landscape unmarred by man. Untouched by human destruction and violence, by hate and greed. Neither of us felt the need to speak; the miracle around us was enough.  


April 21, 2021 11:43

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