About Take A Chance
A university student preparing to confront the adolescent crush who betrayed him. A demon embroiled in a battle against his very nature. A soldier, mentally scarred after fighting in The Great War, torn between propriety and his heart. Though separated by time and distance, culture and reality, these young men all have one thing in common: they each stand at a crossroads in their life and face a choice that will alter the course of their future.
These twelve tales in this collection of gay romantic fiction range from sweet to erotic, contemporary to historical, paranormal to grittily realistic. Whether centred around the fear associated with coming out, the thorny issue of trust, or the struggle for survival, each story explores in its own way the courage needed to overcome personal obstacles and take a chance on love.
My story in Take A Chance is called "Stranger Than Stars." In it, a young man named Peter goes backpacking in Europe following a troubling diagnosis. One night in Amsterdam he wanders into a leather bar called The Cock Ring, where a "pageant" is taking place--one of five performers will be voted Mr. Cock Ring, and will be raffled off to one of the bar patrons for two hours of kinky fun.
Peter doesn't participate in the raffle, but through some unusual circumstances, ends up purchasing a night with one of the pageant contestants--a jaded, hostile ex-pat named Buck. Over the course of their night together, the two lonely men begin to bond in unexpected ways.
"Stranger Than Stars" contains light kink, but the focus isn't kink or sex--it's more of a story about searching for connection in a world that sometimes feels cold and impersonal.
Excerpt from "Stranger Than Stars"
Sometimes the stars make no sense to me.
Most nights, I look up at them and think, yeah, that looks about right. The sky’s just like every painting and photo I’ve ever seen.
But other nights, I look up and think, what are you fuckers doing up there? What are you? I know what you are—I remember sniggering about ‘balls of gas’ in fifth grade science—but just…why? One thing leads to another, and pretty soon, I’m thinking how weird trees are. And dirt, and granola, and shih tzus.
And then I’m thinking, if I did believe in God, He’d be one of those spoiled, prissy artist types, generating a bunch of senseless abstract crap and hoping viewers will delude themselves into believing it’s genius.
Then I’m thinking—like every existential dumbass before me—who am I, Peter Barron? One of my arms is longer than the other. I have a chipped tooth from when I drunk-hugged a concrete post. There’s something growing in me like a weed; when the surgeon pulled it out, it shot right back up again. I picture a black poisonous stalk, wrapping around my organs and squeezing. The doctor says it’s more like a lump, and according to the internet, that lump would be the colour of clotted blood, if I could see it.
I’m senseless, abstract crap, and I’m waiting for someone to look at me the right way and decide I’m a genius. I’ve been waiting for that for years.
My pity party’s like a tea with dolls—blank-eyed plastic babies propped in stubby pink Fisher Price chairs; me, pouring air from a plastic pot, stopping to gently admonish Baby Wets Herself for not putting her napkin on her lap, and then setting my head down on my arms, because how much longer can I keep pouring air before I need a taste of something real?
If you don’t like me now, you’ll like me even less before the end. I’m not here to curry favour; I’m here to whine about dying.
I was in Amsterdam in April because I like Amsterdam. I studied abroad there, in college—four years ago now. The city looks quaint and grungy at the same time. You can smoke weed in coffee houses, but you can’t wear a fake moustache inside the Van Gogh museum. I’ve tried. A lot of Americans don’t know this, but it’s not legal to smoke weed in Amsterdam; it’s just not a felony.
I don’t smoke, though, and I don’t drink…anymore. I’ve known some people with cancer who did all that shit like it was going out of style, because why the hell not, if their bodies were poisoning them anyway? Poison that shit right back. Take that, bitch! But I began treating my body like a temple as soon as it started falling apart.
Only thing I still do is have a lot of sex, sometimes without condoms. I don’t bareback unless I know I’m clean, but I take the other guy at his word if he says he is, too. Sometimes I imagine getting HIV, and making the HIV compete with my lump to see what kills me first. A kind of fucked-up dogfight starring my cells.
Anyway, Amsterdam. I was only there for a night, en route from Berlin. I had just backpacked Eastern Europe with my best friend, Gilbert. We’d been held up in Lithuania, because Gilbert met this guy with a ten-inch cock—supposedly—and eyes the colour of blueberries. Gilbert almost couldn’t pull his mouth off that cock long enough for us to make our train to Berlin. We were supposed to do Berlin for two days and then spend one night in Amsterdam before flying home. But he announced at a bar on our second night in Berlin that he was returning to Vilnius to be with Blueberry Eyes.
“Don’t you mean suck his dick?” I asked.
“No, man.” Gilbert gestured with his beer. “When it’s real, you know it. Right?”
“I have cancer.” I don’t usually pull that card, but once in a while I can’t help it. Up to that point, I hadn’t told anyone but strangers.
“What?” Gilbert was drunk, and the music a maddening thunder that drowned my confession.
“I’m gonna take the train,” Gilbert shouted over the din. “You can have my plane ticket.”
I cupped my hands around my mouth. “I said, ‘you idiot’. What would I do with your plane ticket?”
“You can’t scalp a plane ticket, dude.”
“I’m buying you another drink,” I yelled. “To celebrate that I have cancer and you’re a douche and you can’t give a fucking plane ticket to someone else. It’s got your name on it.”
“OK.” He bobbed in time with the music.
It’s possible Gilbert isn’t a very good friend, but he’s pretty much the only one I’ve got. I own a Camaro that gets ten MPG in the city, and I don’t complain. I’m just glad I have a fucking car.
“Sometimes you have to do something crazy,” Gilbert told me later, “so you don’t look back on your life and see it was some kind of kiddie ride, you know?”
I left the bar then, because if Gilbert was gonna get cross-stitched-pillow philosophical on me, I needed some fresh air. I sort of hoped that would be the last time I’d see him, and that he’d feel guilty forever once I was dead. Pathetic. The next day, I took the train to Amsterdam, the last stop on our tour. Alone.
I went out that night to The Cock Ring, a leather bar listed on gayplaces.com. The bar was hosting something called the Mr. Cock Ring pageant. I expected it to be lamer than it was, because someone on gayplaces.com had called The Cock Ring’s shows ‘half-assed events that all end up feeling like big faggy frat parties’. Another reviewer had called The Cock Ring ‘a thinly disguised brothel’, which was intriguing. One thing all reviewers agreed on was that The Cock Ring was sleazy.
It was one of those nights where the stars looked weird, and the trees and the river. And my face in the mirror—too dark, too long. So it was easy enough to watch the show and remain detached. The idea was that five ‘boys’—at least two were pushing forty—got onstage for short performances, and at the end, the audience chose a winner by applause. Before and during the show, the bar sold raffle tickets. Once Mr. Cock Ring was crowned, a raffle number would be drawn, and one lucky patron would win two hours in a private room with Mr. Cock Ring.
The description of the private room was almost enough to make me hard: floor and ceiling hooks, a cage, a bed with a railed headboard and footboard. A bag of gear. There was no mention of any kind of vetting process for the winner, but a bruiser stood by the back door. Maybe his job was to wait outside the private room and make sure no drunken asshole beat Mr. Cock Ring to death.
I didn’t buy a raffle ticket, and I didn’t drink. I just watched.
The first contestant was Troy from The Hague, who waved his ass to a Dutch electronica song that sounded like a bulldozer scraping over a grate. The crowd went nuts for him, though all I really saw was a flirty, aging blond with a nice ass. Then I thought about how weird asses are, and that occupied me for a full five minutes.
Next up was Sem, a local, who crawled across the bar and teased the hell out of the guy sitting at the end. Put his hand on the guy’s crotch and everything. Then came the crowd favourite, Caspar, who did stomp dancing. He was really good. Nice body, too. My dick finally joined the party.
After each performance, the emcee would patter in English about how the boy who’d just performed needed a good drilling, or to be punished. It was lame, but it made me ache all the same. I fucking love being in charge in the bedroom. I love it the way some people love being in charge of navigating on road trips or trying to fix shit in your house if you tell them it’s broken. Please let me tie you up and flog you, I used to imagine begging my vanilla partners. I promise you won’t regret it. Every now and then, I’d sneak an ass slap in. Most guys didn’t mind. But one time, a guy looked at me and said, “What the fuck, man?” and I was scared to try it on anyone after that.
In my late teens, I discovered leather clubs, and that helped. But I’d met some weirdos there. Do I want to spank you? Yes. Do I want to put a hot coal on your asshole? Not particularly. One guy had called me prejudiced, but whatever. I wasn’t going to stop anyone from dressing in diapers or searing their anuses. I just wasn’t gonna do it myself.
Number Four was a really tall twink who deep-throated a banana. Big deal. Gilbert and I had practised giving head to cucumbers when we were fourteen. Then we’d realised how stupid that was and practised giving head to each other.
Enjoy that ten-inch cock, Gilbert. It’s definitely more important than our ten-year friendship.
“You are nice-looking,” a man next to me said, scanning me up and down.
I liked his accent, so I said, “Thanks.” Then I edged away from him, which is how I ended up right by the stage when the fifth contestant came on.
Number Five was not having fun. He didn’t look abstract, didn’t look like the discarded fantasy art of a moody, pubescent god. He was depressingly real—sallow and wary—but beautiful in a ghoulish way. I didn’t catch his name. He wore cargo pants that rode low, so the top of his boxers puffed out from the waistband. No shirt. Music came on, but he didn’t dance. He just stared at the crowd, looking sullen and…I don’t know. Feral. He walked up to one patron and yanked the glass from his hand. The guy’s expression was cartoonishly shocked, and that made me laugh. Number Five zeroed in on me. He walked over to my side, to the edge of the stage, and dashed the drink in my face.