I stared contemptuously at the blank screen in front of me, each blink of the cursor driving me closer and closer to utter madness.
My first novel had come out five years ago to massive acclaim, and my publisher, my agent, and my mother had all expressed the opinion that the second one would be just as good, if not better – of course, I had yet to write a word of it, so the acclaim would have to wait.
I had read an interview once with an author suggesting that his muse had given him the idea for his very successful book. I believed that, because something took hold of me when I wrote my book. However, it was also my belief that my muse was passed out in a dank back alley somewhere with a bottle of cheap vodka in one hand, slowly lifting a lit crack pipe to dry, bloodied lips.
A small, smiling paperclip appeared on the side of my screen, breaking what little train of thought I had. 'Looks like you could use some help!' The speech bubble read. I felt my eye twitch.
It wasn't enough that I was being pressured by the literary world at large, my publisher, my agent, and my mother (You know the stereotypical Jewish mothers you see in film? That's my mom.), but now a fucking paperclip was mocking me on my own fucking screen.
'Eat shit and die, you fuck.' I typed into the search box, and hit enter, feeling rather smug that I had put it in its place.
Until it came up with a list of results for me, anyway. 'You may have won this round.. but I'll be back.' I thought bitterly.
I closed the lid on the laptop and groaned, putting my head in my hands. My first book had flowed out of me like water. Now, the river had dried up, and I was left with dead fish, mud, and a bunch of rocks.
There was a knock at the door, and I stood, retrieving my wallet as I did so. The pizza boy was eighteen or so, and gorgeous. It took me a second to catch myself from staring, but I did allow myself to look him up and down, though I felt terribly dirty as I did so. If he minded, he didn't say anything.
"Fifteen eighty-four." He said, checking the slip and barely looking at me. In the back of my mind, I thought that if this were a porn, I'd be giving him a much bigger tip than I was about to. I gave him a twenty and told him to keep the change, taking the hot box away from him. He nodded, told me to have a good day and walked off.
As I watched him walk down the hallway, I thought how terribly long it had been since I had sex. How depressing.
Kicking the door shut, I flopped onto the couch, pressed 'play', and was immersed in the high-class world of gay pornography. My phone rang just as the beautiful blonde boy onscreen dropped his pants, and I sighed, setting the pizza down and taking my hand out of my pants.
(Is this what I've been reduced to? Eating pizza and jerking off in the middle of the afternoon to a bad porno? God, my life is sad.)
"Hello, ma." I hit 'pause' on the DVD remote, wondering if she knew I ordered ham on my pizza.
"Oh, Marshall, honey. You're home. Good."
Where the hell else would I be? I have no job, no boyfriend.. "Yeah. What's up?" My eyes flicked to the screen, and finally turned it off, unable to concentrate on talking to my mother when I had that image in my mind.
"Your sister is coming for dinner tonight."
"That's nice." I replied noncommittally. I heard her sigh on the other line and closed my eyes. I love my mother dearly, but sometimes she just drives me insane.
"She's bringing the kids.. you know how long it's been since they've seen their Uncle Marshall.. and I know Sarah misses you too."
"Ma, look, I have a lot of work to do."
"Oh! You started the book?"
"…. Marshall, we only live ten minutes away, and we hardly ever see you. Would it kill you to visit with your family?"
Here's hoping. "Fine, fine. I'll make an appearance."
"Before I forget.. do you remember the Schwartzes from down the street? Their son, Michael, is a gay, and I think he's single.. and your age, too."
".. Good-bye, ma."
"Just think it over."
"Yes, ma. I love you."
"I love you too, sweetheart."
I hung up and lay back onto the couch. I really didn't want to go to dinner with my family that night. It was fine just visiting my parents, but when my sister showed up with the brats, I was reminded just how empty my life was. My mother always fussed over the kids, and reminded me that I still had to find that certain special (Jewish) someone, and have kids with them.
Well, ma, I may not have kids, but you know what? Oprah loved my fucking book. Has Sarah met Oprah? Or gotten a literary award? Or gotten on the New York Times Bestseller list? And I know that you weren't thrilled when Sarah got pregnant at sixteen. Somehow, sobbing about 'shame' evolved into being a proud grandmother a few years later.
I shouldn't be jealous, but it's hard. How can parents pit their own children against each other? Does she do it to Sarah too? Does she go 'Oh, your brother's novel is on the bestseller list again. When are you going to go back to school and get a career?' I love my sister, but sometimes I despise her for having things in her life that I can't seem to have in mind.
I'm not even thirty yet, mind you, and I have plenty of time, but there's a certain pressure nowadays to either go out and get laid every other night, or completely get domesticated and adopt a couple kids and live in a gayborhood. As it was, I had a cat, and that was it. She didn't judge me, or give a shit if I had a boyfriend or kids, and it was good enough for me.
Somewhere in my self-hating porn and grease induced haze, my agent called, cheerfully evil and patronizing as always. (I hated her on a deep, personal level, but she did get me work, so I tried not to complain too much.)
"Oh, hell-o, Marshall. How's the new book coming?"
"Really?" I could practically hear her heart jump – which made me feel a little guilty for what I was about to do to her.
"Yeah. It's about a kitten named George who wears a scarf and discusses society's indifference to the homeless with a talking banana."
There was a long pause on her end, and I imagined her rubbing her temples. She gave me one of her patented long-suffering sighs. "Marshall.."
"There a reason you called, Kim? I'm a very busy man."
"Yeah? With what? Backdoor Fantasies volume 9?"
I craned my neck to see the title of the DVD. "Hah. Wrong. Volume eight."
"I booked you a college engagement. One of the professors wants you to speak to his class."
"About what?" I yawned and scratched myself – truly, the height of class.
"Oh, you know. He was thinking an entire lecture on the merits and differences between Backdoor Fantasies eight and nine." She answered snarkily.
"Well, fuck. Tell him I can spread that out over a week!"
"Just be at the college by two, tomorrow. Dress nice, Marshall."
"Really? Should I bring my yarmulke?"
She hung up, and I grinned. My goal in life was to systematically give her a nervous breakdown.
I really didn't mind the college gigs. They were decent money, and sometimes, I got laid out of them. I realize that in a sense, this made me somewhat of a prostitute, but I was halfway there, being a semi-famous author. I was selling bits of my soul for money and (small) fame.
Not that many authors have reached celebrity status anyway – other than Steven King, and I think part of that is due to the fact that he's just plain scary looking. How many people could pick John Grisham, or .. uh.. that guy whore wrote The DaVinci Code out of a crowd?
It was both a blessing and a curse. No one gave a fuck what I looked like, who I dated, who I fucked. Still, I couldn't help but feel a little jealous that all the other famous people (and I use the term loosely) got all kinds of attention.
After I finished off my pizza, I went back to the computer from before. "Write what you know." I said aloud. I stared at the screen for another ten minutes before typing 'My ex-boyfriend is a douchebag.' And giggling to myself. I looked over at the clock. "..Fuck."
Somehow, I was supposed to get partway across the city, stop and get flowers and some kind of chocolate for my mother, and race over to my family's house, all within the space of an hour.
I cursed again as I got dressed, almost stumbling over my cat in the process. Before I left, I did a mental checklist: Pants? Check. Wallet? Check. Keys? ...check. Rushing down the stairs (and damn near breaking my neck in my haste to do so), I got into my car and completed the scavenger hunt that was my pre-mom-visit-preparation.
I arrived at my mother's house with three minutes to spare, and stepped into the lobby, panting softly. 'God, I need to quit smoking..'. My sister was playing with the brats in the living room, and I received a chorus of "Hi, Uncle Mars!" on my way into the kitchen. I waved, and went in to see my mother, slaving over the hot stove as always.
"Hey, ma." I kissed her cheek, setting the chocolates and flowers on the table where she could see them.
"Oh, honey. " She gave me a kiss. "How sweet. Oh, and I have good news. Sarah's pregnant again."
I bit back a smirk. "That's great, ma. Brian outside?" She nodded, and I stepped out to where my brother-in law was smoking a cigarette, looking exhausted.
"Hey, Uncle Mars." He grinned.
"I heard about your new little miracle. Mazel Tov."
"Oh, fuck you." He groaned. "She swears she was on the pill this time.. "
"Just tell her that you're gay, madly in love with me, and we're going to live in .. I don't know. Switzerland." I took one of his cigarettes and lit it, taking a drag.
"Why Switzerland?" He laughed.
"Why not, I say."
"How's the book coming?"
"So well, in fact, that if one more person asks, I will lose my fucking mind." I took a longer drag and exhaled, watching the smoke drifting away. Brian looked over at me.
"Haven't written anything, have you?"
"Not a goddamned word, Brian."
Brian had married my sister seven years ago, the first time he'd knocked her up. He was a really good guy, and one of my only close friends. He was pretty much the older brother I never wanted, and one of the few male role models I had, growing up.
When I was eighteen, and had only recently come out, my sister had taken me to my very first musical on Broadway for my birthday - Hairspray. Somehow, she'd managed to drag Brian along (most likely due to the promise of some lurid sex act that I don't need to think of my big sister doing.) and though he grumbled throughout, it was Brian that had started a drunken karaoke duet of 'Good Morning Baltimore' with me, years later.
So it came to be known that my very gorgeous, very straight brother-in-law is a closeted show tune queen. We usually sneak off every couple months to take in a new show, and one of us always ends up with the soundtrack. I'm fairly confident that Brian knows the words to every single song in 'The Little Mermaid' (and blames that fact on his two girls, but I know better.) - a fact that I never let him live down. Ever.
He stubbed out his cigarette and exhaled the last mouthful of smoke. I reminded myself silently that having a crush on my brother-in-law was only a step below wanting to blow the possibly-underaged pizza boy on the "wrong" scale.
A year ago, I had drunkenly confessed to Brian that if he and Sarah ever split up (God forbid), I would jump him so fast, it would make his head spin.
He'd laughed and just shaken his head, but he did promise me that on the tiny, tiny chance he suddenly turned gay, he'd "totally" do me, so I had that going for me.
Dinner with my mother and the rest of them was usually a semi-awkward affair. It was always uncomfortable watching my sister and brother-in-law being romantic, and the topic turned to the new book now and then, and how so-and-so's son was available. Thankfully, I had not yet sunk to the level of having my mother set me up. Even if the Goldstein's son was a doctor.
"..Uh, well. I have a college gig coming up. I'm speaking in front of a class." I said nervously. "Tomorrow afternoon."
"That's nice, dear."
I caught Brian's smirk and rolled my eyes, clearing the empty plates from the table. On my way to the bathroom, I stopped and looked at the picture of my father that hung there. He'd died when I was fifteen from a stroke, and even though we were never amazingly close, I still missed him a lot. I dedicated my first book to his memory, in fact.
Something that's always haunted me, though, was a little while after I'd come out to my mother. She'd started to cry, and said that she was glad my father wasn't around to see this. It had hit me like a punch in the face, and to be honest, I've never gotten over it, even after she apologized. I think about it a lot, and always wonder just how he would've reacted to the news that his only son gave head like a champ.
Imagine that – a gay boy with daddy issues.
"He would've been proud of you."
My mother's voice snapped me out of my daze, and I turned, blinking at her. ".. You sure changed your tune."
".. I was upset, darling. " It was obvious she knew what I was talking about. She squeezed my shoulder. "I think.. he would've been proud of what you've become. A writer.. giving talks at colleges.. You're a good boy, Marshall. "
My throat clenched somewhat. ".. thanks, ma."
"When you're done, you come help me with dishes.." She gave me a pat and walked off. Sighing, I went into the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror. I was a decent-looking guy. Sexy, even. So why the perpetual singleness? It didn't seem, for lack of a better word, kosher.
At the end of the night, I headed home and passed out on the couch with some indie movie in the DVD player. Typical evening for me.
In the morning, I woke up, showered, and dressed kind of sexy casual – one never knows just when there's some cute literature students. Of course, my agent would be pissed that I wasn't in a suit, but who wears a suit to one of these things?
The campus was easy enough to find, and I made it with a few minutes to spare. I put my earphones in, humming as I looked at the class numbers. Frowning, I checked the map that had been e-mailed to me and took out the earbud to ask a rather gorgeous football player where Professor .. Nicholson's class was. He gave me an odd look.
"That.. gay class, right?" He asked, and looked at his girlfriend. I felt ill. What kind of class had I been signed up for? "Didn't you take that, baby?"
She nodded, eyeing me like a lioness eyeing a cute gay gazelle. "It's on the second floor. Go right after the elevator. Room 208B."
I thanked them and went on my merry way, shaking my head. The elevator doors were just starting to close as I approached them. "Shit!" I almost dropped my coffee as I ran, calling "Hold the door!"
Amazingly, someone did. I reached the elevator, panting, and was about to ask the person there to press the 2 button when I saw that it was already lit. I finally looked up to thank the guy, and my heart skipped a beat.
I'd guess him to be in his early thirties, a little chubby, but cute. Wire rimmed glasses (!), kind of nerdy looking, but there was just something about him. ".. Thanks."
"..yeah." I blinked, finally catching my breath. 'Looks like someone needs to quit smoking, hmm?' came the little voice in my head. 'Fuck you. We've been through this.' I thought silently.
"I'm Professor Nicholson."
"Oh! Nice to meet you. Uh, mind if I ask a question?"
".. Go for it."
"..what kind of class do you teach?"
".. Homosexuality in literature and media studies."
'Aha. You win this round, Kim.' ".. Ah. Well, I guess I'm out, then, huh?" I grinned. He looked startled, and started to backpedal before I stopped him. "Trust me. I'm out. It's no problem."
He looked relieved. ".. Do you mind if I call you Marshall? I .. didn't mean to before."
"Yeah. 'sfine. " I took a sip of my coffee and somehow managed not to spill it all over myself, which may sound like a small feat, but obviously, you don't know me. "Thanks for having me, Professor."
".. You can call me Graham. Or.. uh. Gray."
He was really a nervous kind of fellow. Very skittish. ".. Relax, Gray. I'm not anybody famous. " I patted his shoulder and exited the elevator with him.
The class was bigger than I would've expected, though there were just as many lusty straight women there as I thought there'd be. Still, I couldn't help but be a little nervous as the class started. When the cute Professor introduced me, I entered to applause and took the podium.
The lecture went well, and of course, when I opened it up to questions, I was asked about the new book.
".. Well, to be honest, I haven't written a word. On my first book, I had this muse whispering in my ear, telling me what to write. And this one.. " I took a sip of water. "Well, I got a postcard. Turns out my muse has been touring the bathhouses of the Northeastern United States. But on a plus note, he wishes I was there."
The class laughed, and I would've too if it weren't so sad. Still, I grinned and made it through the rest of it, signing autographs and everything. I'm pretty sure a couple of the boys gave me their phone numbers.
Graham came over and shook my hand. "Thanks for coming."
"It was fun." I shrugged and finished off the water on the podium. "Thanks for having me."
"So. Uh, if .. you want, I have a free period, and .. do you want to go for coffee?"
It was my turn to be startled. Was the cute professor asking me out? Swallowing, I nodded and gave him what I thought would be a somewhat flirty smile.
He held the door for me, and we headed onto the elevator together. We had coffee, and I went home, though my thoughts kept drifting to Graham. I hadn't connected with anyone like I had with him in a long time. He wasn't exactly my type – my ex was a model, for chrissakes - , but I liked him.
I dialled his number and waited for a voice on the other end, closing my eyes.
"Hey, uh. Graham, it's Marshall. " I paused. "Cohen."
'Way to go. I'm sure he knows a whole bunch of Marshalls, you jackass.'
"Oh! Hi. Wh.. What's up?"
"I .. was wondering if you wanted to come over tonight. For.. y'know. Drinks, and.. food."
Stupid voice in my head.
"…th.. that sounds great. Where do you live?"
I gave him my address, and he promised to be at my place on time. And there it was – I had a date.
Now I'd just have to wait and see how badly I'd fuck it up.