Second Time Lucky
Available June 8th from MLR Press!
Luke Landon and Owen West already had a once upon a time. They burned hot back in college yet still managed to lose their way. It’s been fifteen years since they drifted apart and while a lot has since changed, they’ve discovered that some things still feel the same. While one calls it fate, the other dumb luck, second chances aren’t easy to come by. Putting the ignorance of youth and life’s baggage aside, they just might find that sometimes the best things really do come back to you.
I could only imagine what a pathetic, sad vision I made sitting at the bar, completely surrounded by happy party-goers and drunks, yet so obviously all alone. Funny thing was, I didn’t believe anyone else could be bothered to notice. Another real ripper of a birthday had come and was now mercifully nearing an end. I was birthday cursed, that much I’d discovered a long, longtime ago. This year had proven no different.
Thirty fucking six years old. I might as well be dead. Wait, what am I thinking? I am dead—at least in this town.
It’s the biggest problem gay men of a certain age face having lived all their life in the same damn city. From Cub Scouts to college, and beyond, I’d screwed my way from one end of town and back again so many times over the years that damned if there was anyone left I hadn’t had sex with. I was well on my way to becoming the dirty old man waiting around for the latest batch of college freshmen to move into town—fresh off the fields and farms all pink and eager to learn anything Daddy was willing to teach.
My stomach churned at that horrendous thought, so I quickly took another swig off my long neck attempting to drown it at inception as opposed to allowing it to take root and blossom. My lip curled seeing Craig pass by with the latest model of gay hanging on his arm.
My most recent ex-boyfriend. What a dirt bag. I should be celebrating the fact that we were over, yet somehow him being here on this night of all nights, and with a new boyfriend, made me less than jolly. I surveyed the room once more, shaking my head. It was like a who’s who of the men Luke Landon had dated and dumped. This was the third bar I’d been to and each one of them held a different selection of my exes.
This kind of thing didn’t happen often. It was quite rare—and most unpleasant. It was as if the mystical gay energy that normally held the constructs of our flaming world together had come apart at the seams. Time itself had been bent and twisted into this hideously ugly Ebenezer Scrooge-like reality upon which all of my past exploits were now being paraded in front of my face as if to remind me what a ho-bag loser I was.
Usually, gay men stayed on the same cycle—similar to the menstrual variety in that we did our best to avoid the achy cramps that came with running into our past failures. We instinctively knew what nights and times to avoid certain bars. It was something we normally didn’t have to work at. The same way the moon orbits the earth which in turn does the same with regard to the sun, we managed to avoid one another without needing to consciously think.
For a city that held over a half a million people and a plethora of gay bars, Middleton usually provided ample room for the homosexual animals to roam freely within their desired packs, without fear of awkward confrontations or sideways glances. Tonight however, was like a full eclipse or Haley’s Comet—that once in a blue moon alignment of events that created the hell in which I now resided.
I signaled the bartender that I was ready for another beer and shot, wondering where the hell all the astrological references in my brain were coming from. I groaned, pouting in my pity party for one, recognizing the latest Kylie Minogue song which began pumping over the club’s sound system.
I could feel my bottom lip pooching out. I love this song, damn it!
I gazed longingly at the dance floor wishing I could go Cha Cha my blues away. I sighed, knowing it was safest for everyone if I kept my seat. The bone-breaking birthday bash of 2008 had taught me that. A broken ankle for me, a broken wrist for the boy I was dancing with, and three others, who suffered minor scrapes and bruises, all taken down by the power of the curse.
Like I’m supposed to know the metal railing around the dance floor wasn’t meant to be straddled and ridden like a bucking bronco?
No one was sued or anything, but I did ruin any chances at a future with my dancing partner. Don’t expect a happily-ever-after when you accidently break a man’s masturbation hand—life lesson learned.
Peter sat my drinks down in front of me, smiling in that sexy way they all do when they’re working you for a tip. I tossed him a ten and a five spot.
A gay bartender named Peter. I shook my head wondering if his parents appreciated the foreshadowing. “Keep the change.”
“Thanks!” he yelled over the loud music adding the obligatory “stud” onto the end. It felt less than genuine considering the sexy glimmer in Peter’s eye had already moved on to the patron sitting next to me.
“T and T with two limes,” the guy said. “And salt the rim,” both he and the bartender said simultaneously—the bartender mocking my new neighbor while nodding that he knew the drill all too well.
I managed a smile when the guy reached across the bar, smacking Peter in the arm.
“Hey Luke, what up?”
I glanced over at Rick, whose last name I could never seem to remember. “Nothing, aside from my bar tab.”
Rick grinned, rubbing his hands together as he slowly looked around the room, sizing up the meat in the market. He was obviously having a much better night than I was with my ghosts of boyfriends past…on parade.
Rick was what I referred to as a bar-buddy. We only managed a social life with one another while out clubbing. It wasn’t necessarily a conscious decision so much as some sort of instinctual vibe we each put off. I’d long believed we gays were able to sense favorable pheromones in one another, similar to the way dogs sniff each other’s asses to ascertain whether or not they might play well together. Unlike our canine compadres, however, we manage to confine our ass sniffing to private quarters…most of the time.
Rick and I merely recognized we wouldn’t have anything in common outside the confines of these walls. We didn’t swap numbers or follow each other on Twitter or Facebook. He wasn’t the kind of friend that would even know today was my birthday.
Peter slapped a cocktail napkin down onto the highly polished wooden bar before setting down the rocks glass, which was already sweating as beads of condensation ran down the side.
Rick tossed him his credit card. “Start me a tab?”
“Sure thing, stud,” Peter said before moving on to other pastures, still green with the almighty dollar.
Seriously? Are we all one? How many actual studs could one bar handle?
“Oh, Happy Birthday, by the way!” Rick exclaimed, as if having read my thoughts from mere moments ago, deciding to make a liar out of me.
“How the hell did you know it was my birthday?” I asked.
“I saw it on Facebook earlier today.” He said it nonchalantly.
I rolled my eyes before downing my shot of tequila. Apparently I had too many face-friends, considering I could no longer recall who was or wasn’t among them.
“Geez dude,” Rick mumbled. “It’s like an ex-BF convention rolled into town.”
“You too?” I asked, picking up my beer while trying to remember who he’d been with in the past.
“No way, not me!” Rick shivered the thought and took a sip from his glass, licking the salt off the rim with the tip of his tongue. “You!”
Tell me something I don’t know, asshole.
I huffed slightly, wondering how the hell he knew me so well.
“Oh man, there’s Marty, I haven’t seen him around in a long time.”
I sighed watching my fifth-ex-removed stroll languidly through the center of the bar looking all fresh and fine.
Rick took another drink while eye-fucking Marty within an inch of his life. “I always had a thing for him, you know?”
I should’ve known better than to ask on a night like this. I most certainly did not know that. Another gift I’ll not be able to return. Whoever said information was power was a total liar.
I took a good long drink from my very cold beer.
Rick placed his hand on my shoulder. “It’s nice to see that Chance guy out and about, huh?”
I glanced over to where Chance Crawford was sitting, surrounded by men that had never paid him any mind before his lover, who’d been an anchorman for one of the local affiliates was killed, hit by a car last year.
I couldn’t help but think he looked as miserable as I felt, which in turn made me realize what a heel I was being. There was a guy who had a legitimate reason to be down in the dumps. A few exes…well okay a few dozen, but still. No one I cared for was dead.
“Say, would it be weird if I were to ask Marty out?” Rick asked, not even bothering to look me in the face as he was too busy staring at the ex in question.
Okay, my statement would still be true, even if I were to strangle Rick. No one I cared for would be dead.
I sighed, near drunk and newly determined to finish my beer and go the hell home. “Knock yourself out.”
I smiled, hoping that birthday wish would come true.
“Thanks man!” Rick said, picking up his drink before teasing me by tripping over the leg of his barstool and stumbling face forward.
He managed to not fall on his head though. Still…not exactly a Rico Suave sorta move. I took a teensy bit of pleasure from the fact people were now laughing at his clumsiness.
Alone once more, I chastised myself for having tempted fate by going out on my birthday to begin with. My so-called loser friends and co-workers were supposed to have met me for dinner earlier in the evening at La Mancha’s. One by one they each called, having to cancel at the last minute, leaving me alone at the large ass table wearing a huge sombrero while drowning my sorrows in a pitcher of mango margaritas.
“Happy Birthday to me,” I mumbled, as the strangest sensation shot through my chest for like the first time ever.
Me, Luke Landon, one year older and newly decrepit…now that I was practically forty…a one-time party boy and player…heart breaker extraordinaire was actually experiencing a new emotion.
I was lonely?
It seemed unfathomable as I took another swig from my bottle while contemplating the horror of it. I shrugged, downing the last bit of beer.
Perhaps I’m just drunk?
I started to laugh, pushing the beer bottle away before reaching for my phone to call a cab.
I cocked my head to the side hearing this static-like sound coming from behind me, followed by the words, “Put your clothes back on and get back into your vehicle. The park has now closed.”
The smile spreading across my face was immediate and uncontrollable as I’d only heard those words one time before, and only two other people would’ve been able to repeat them to me. The park ranger who’d quietly driven his Jeep Wrangler down to the lake, surprising us with the floodlights he’d turned on—illuminating our nakedness as we frolicked in one another’s arms on the beach or Owen West my co-frolickee…frolicker-er?
Wait, is that even a word?