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By Sean Wolfe
Copyright © 2008
All right reserved.
Chapter One THE WEST COAST
What do you think of when you think of the West Coast? It's my favorite part of the United States, and I desperately long to move back to my beloved San Francisco. It's such a unique part of the country, and it elicits different images from people who call it home or who have visited it.
For me, the West Coast screams San Francisco. The City by the Bay is quite possibly the most diverse city in the country. People from every ethnic background, social class, education level, and spiritual mind-set call it home. For the most part, everyone gets along, and the people don't just tolerate the diversity of the city, they value and embrace it. It is the home of both the hippie movement and the gay movement, both of which define themselves by the themes of love and acceptance of all human beings in society.
Some people think of the warm and sunny beaches of Los Angeles or San Diego, with blond-haired and blue-eyed and smooth-muscled surfer dudes and gals. They are gnarly and unfazed by the demands of the bustling cities around them, and live only to hang ten and catch the next beach party.
Others see the tree-hugging, coffee-drinking, rain-loving yuppies in Seattle and Portland as the epitome of the West Coast lifestyle.
But whatever picture you have of the West Coast, one overlying theme prevails here. Slow down and smell the roses ... or coffee. Take life one day at a time. Don't take yourself, or anyone else, too seriously. Live and let live. And most of all, don't judge others. Chill out.
The stories in this section deal with that mentality. Their characters struggle with finding their own identities, with leaving the past behind and moving on, with not taking themselves too seriously, and with having fun while maintaining their sense of self-value. The taboos here are prostitution, incest, and orgies/group sex. Although none of these taboos are exclusive to the West Coast, of course, they might be just a little more common here than ... say in the hills of the Appalachians.
So, grab a cup of joe, kick off your sandals and let the surf tickle your toes, and let the waves take you to a place you might find oddly familiar.
Chapter Two A Matter of Chance
Part One The West Coast
"Woo hoo!" someone yelled from inside the kitchen.
Chance wasn't even sure who it was. There were twenty-two men crammed in his tiny apartment. Most of them were gathered around the television, watching the Academy Awards, as had been their tradition for the past four years. But a few, those who'd been convinced by the second commercial that the show was rigged and that their favorites had no chance of winning their categories, huddled in the kitchen around the booze and food.
"Hell will freeze over and we'll elect a competent president before Angelina wins a Best Actress Award." The voice emerged from the kitchen, and Chance saw that it was Reggie. No big surprise there; he was the most vocal of the group by far. "And that is just a travesty of justice. Not to mention an embarrassment to the Academy and thespian-loving fags all across this fine nation."
"It's a good thing you don't lean toward the melodramatic." Chance laughed as he picked the last piece of pepperoni pizza from the box on the coffee table.
"Right?" Reggie said as he kicked several legs out of the way and made his way back to his seat.
From the kitchen behind him and the bedroom just to his left, Chance heard the phone ring. "Oh, hell no," he screamed. "Who the hell would be ignorant enough to call right as they're announcing Best Actress? James, can you get that? And tell them to get a life and call back after the awards."
"Who the fuck would be stupid enough to call in the middle of the most important evening of the year?" James yelled as he answered the phone. "Chance wants you to call back after ..."
When he stopped in midsentence, Chance looked over to see his best friend turn as white as new snow. The look on his face was a mix of shock, fright, and mortification. "It's your mother," he said as he covered the phone. "She didn't sound amused."
Chance jumped up and grabbed the phone, and then ran into the bedroom.
"Hi, Mom," he said as he closed the door. "Is everything okay?" He closed his eyes and rubbed his temples as he listened to her. "That was my friend James. Sorry, we're having an Academy Awards party, and we got a little carried away. No, he's really a very nice guy. I'm the one who was being disrespectful. I told him to say that."
He kicked his shoes off and lay on the bed. Experience told him that this would be a painful phone call. He hadn't spoken to his parents in more than a year. The last time had ended in a screaming match and his parents hanging up on him. He'd gotten his stubbornness from both of his parents, and so it didn't surprise him when they didn't call him back and try to mend the relationship. And he was sure it didn't surprise them that he hadn't made that move, either.
"Yes, I'm sure you are disappointed in me, Mother," he said, biting his bottom lip to keep from saying something they'd both regret. "But in my defense, you haven't called or written in more than a year. I really wasn't expecting it to be you. And my friends here know me well enough to know that answering the phone that way is a joke. And they'd know not to call me during the Academy Awards."
One of his guests knocked softly on the door, and then walked in, pointing to the bathroom. Chance nodded for him to go ahead and rolled his eyes at the phone in his hand.
"Yes, that is a gay thing, Mother. I don't mean to be rude, but I've got a house full of company. It'd be in poor taste to leave them unattended for too long. Why did you call me tonight?"
Normally Chance wasn't this bold. Normally he'd be quiet and listen to his mother without talking back. Normally he'd cringe at the icy tone of his mother's voice and the harsh indifference in his father's. But today was not a normal day, and this entire week had been far from ordinary. Earlier in the week, he'd been passed over for a promotion for the third time in six months. And just a couple days ago, he'd gotten in a horrible argument with his boss. And to top it all off, that blond bitch Cameron won a Best Supporting Actress award earlier in the night, and it looked like goddess Angelina was not going to win her most deserved Best Actress trophy. Life was not fair, and Chance had had just about enough. His mother calling out of the blue and interrupting his evening was just the last straw. And it was quite possible that the six margaritas and mojitos he'd had in the last two hours had emboldened him just a little.
But perhaps he'd chosen the wrong night to assert himself. He'd thought he was strong enough and prepared enough for just about anything. But he was wrong.
"What?" he screeched. "What happened? Is he okay?"
Chance listened without interrupting for the next ten minutes as his mother described, in vivid detail, his father's stroke a couple of days previous. Chance was confused about what he should feel at hearing the news. His mind told him that he should be sad and shocked, that maybe he even ought to cry. But his heart told him that he shouldn't give a damn, that he should remain angry and upset and indifferent with his parents for disowning him eight years ago and sending him to Stanford so that he'd be as far from them as possible.
The reality was, however, that he was numb. He didn't feel a thing when his mother announced that his father was gravely ill. When she started crying and saying she didn't know what she was going to do and how she was going to get through the next several months, he didn't even blink or clear his throat.
And then he felt as if he'd been struck in the throat with a brick, or perhaps a baseball bat. He tried to breathe, but couldn't. He tried to speak, but couldn't. It took him a full five minutes, and the goading of his mother, to squeak out a response.
"That's out of the question, Mother," he said quietly, and then cleared his throat. "There's no way I can go ... home. I'm very busy at work."
It'd been a long time since his mother had made him feel like a child. His father had always been quiet and somewhat listless, and never had much to say to Chance, either positive or negative. But he never said anything to his wife as she ripped into him, and so Chance always thought that his father might be somewhat afraid of his mother as well. A few times, Chance had seen his father roll his eyes as his mother went on one of her famous rants, but for the most part he kept his eyes on the television and his left hand on the omnipresent can of Bud Light that accompanied him when he was home.
But his mother had always been skilled at making him feel small and insignificant. She didn't even need to speak a word to silence him. Most of the time all it took was one of her patented single raised eyebrows. He could count on one hand the number of times he'd talked back to her, and the number was equal to the number of times he'd been on the receiving end of her wicked backhand. Now, even three thousand miles away, he swore he could feel the sting of her hand across his cheek.
"Yes, Mother, I know you didn't raise me to speak to you like that," he said as he peeked into the living room. The ending credits were rolling across the screen, and his friends were moving the leftover pizza boxes, beer bottles, and potato chips into the kitchen. He knew from experience that that was as far as they'd go. They wouldn't actually clean up. "But I'm not the little boy that you used to smack around. I've grown up and become my own man, and I make my own decisions, including how I speak and to whom."
He held the phone a few inches from his ear, fully expecting to hear his mother scream. Her rants and raves were known coast to coast, and anyone who knew her made a point of not incurring them. He also expected a long string of expletives, some of whose origin were suspect, at the least. And he was certain the conversation would end with the click from the other end of the line, as their last call had.
What he was not prepared for was the soft moan of his mother's cry, or how quickly that simple whimper made him agree to return home.
It took him a couple of days to get everything lined up so that he could take off, and he honestly thought that given a couple of days to think about it, he'd have chosen to back out of his word and not leave. But he had three weeks of vacation and personal leave available at work, had asked James to house- and plant-sit for him, and now, two days after his mother's phone call, he was throwing his packed bags into the trunk and sliding behind the wheel of his new Saturn Sky.
The sporty convertible had been his one indulgence on himself in the past five years. He'd always wanted to own a fun sports car but had never entertained the idea of actually owning one. His parents had instilled in him very successfully the common sense and value of driving a fuel-efficient four-door sedan, and he'd obliged by tooling around first in a run-down Geo Metro for a few years, and then upgrading to a Saturn Ion. He loved the Saturn so much that when he finally grew his backbone and decided he was going to make his next car a true reflection of himself, the Sky was an easy choice. It was cute and funky and sporty and fun ... just like him.
Chance's mother had balked at the idea of him driving all the way across the country, making a big fuss about how dangerous it was. He knew she was really only concerned about the amount of time it'd take him to get there. She'd tried to talk him into flying, even offering to pay for the ticket. But he'd insisted on driving his new car to New York. He needed some time to think and prepare himself for the next couple of weeks, and the fresh air from driving across the country would be perfect.
He looked in the rearview mirror as he pulled away from the curb, not really sure what he was looking back at, or what he expected to look back at him. James wouldn't be coming over until after work later that evening. None of his friends had gotten up early to see him off. He didn't have a dog or a cat. So he just stared at the single empty window with the tasteful and expensive mauve and teal treatment as it got smaller and smaller in the mirror. When he could no longer see the window, or his apartment complex, or even his neighborhood, he took a deep breath and ran his fingers through his hair as he gained speed and exited the city.
San Francisco had been his home for the past eight years. It hadn't been his first choice of a home, and he ended up there by accident, really. He'd been quite happy attending NYU back home, and discovering himself and his newfound sexuality. And when he met Dylan, he'd felt as if he'd found the part of him that he'd always known was missing and just waiting to be discovered. They spent every spare moment of every day together and had started talking about possibly moving in together.
But when Chance finally worked up the nerve to tell his parents that he was gay, and to introduce them to his boyfriend, his home, and in fact his entire world, collapsed around him. Nothing in his nineteen years of living with his parents had led him to believe that they'd welcome the news with open arms and a congratulatory cigar. But neither had it prepared him for the fury with which they unleashed their disgust and hatred.
Within a week, Chance was ripped out of NYU and on a plane to Palo Alto to live with his father's brother and sister-in-law. He started Stanford the following term and never heard from Dylan again. San Francisco was less than hour away, and so it didn't take long for Chance to discover it, and once he did, he came out with a vengeance. Before the school year was over, he'd moved out of his uncle's house and into a tiny studio in the Mission District.
That was four apartments, two cars, six jobs, and a dozen two-month stands ago, and he'd never once been compelled to return home. He'd become strong, he'd become independent, and he'd become proud. Yet with his father's typically silent stroke, and the anything-but-typical quiet whimper of his mother, he was putting his life on hold and driving three thousand miles alone to face his demons, as his mother would say.
"Goddamn, why do I let them get to me like this?" Chance said as he slammed his fist into the steering wheel. "I'm not a fucking kid anymore. I have my own life to live and to worry about."
He hadn't let them affect him in a long time, and resented the helpless feeling it brought to the surface. He took a couple of deep breaths and drank in the warmth of the sun on his face and the wind blowing through his hair. Just north of Santa Barbara he noticed a sign announcing a rest stop and realized he'd been driving for three hours without stopping.
He pulled into the stop and took a few moments to stretch. It was one of the larger rest stops he'd seen along the six-hour drive down California's scenic Pacific Coast Highway, with a small park, plenty of parking spaces and RV hookups, a long line of vending machines, and a huge cinder block building housing the men and women's restrooms and showers.
There were only four other vehicles parked there: two eighteen-wheelers, a minivan, and an old beat-up convertible Jeep Wrangler with a surfboard tied to the frame and numerous bumper stickers extolling the praises of surfing, boarding, and "hanging ten." One of the big trucks was quiet, and sheets covered the windows from the inside. Several feet away the other truck had the driver door open, and Chance could hear the twang of Willie Nelson coming from the stereo. On the other side of the long lot was the minivan, parked right next to the playground, where a man and women played with three young children.
Chance loved the smell of the ocean, and he took a deep breath. The crash of the waves somewhere in the distance made him realize how badly he had to pee. He locked his car and walked into the men's room.
He was surprised at how clean it was. He'd heard and read stories of roadside truck stops and rest stops that had made him cringe. This place didn't live up to that reputation at all. His shoes didn't stick to the floor as he walked, the walls weren't covered in graffiti, and it didn't smell like the entire homeless population of New York City had relieved itself there recently. The gray walls were clean and graffiti free, save for one "Jesus Loves You" proclamation right next to the paper towel dispenser. The counters and trash cans were emptied and looked newly cleaned. There were three urinals and three stalls in the room, and all of the stalls had their doors intact. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Taboo by Sean Wolfe Copyright © 2008 by Sean Wolfe. Excerpted by permission.
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