Reluctant Groom: Manlove, Evernight’s latest LGBT anthology, is an collection of stories celebrating May/December romances between two men… and, you know, forced marriages turning into happily-ever-afters.
What a perfect way to celebrate Pride Month!
My story in Reluctant Groom is “October Surprise”
Image is everything to Whim, a stoic mayor who is also an openly gay, black man running for governor of a Southern state. So when the blackmail letter arrives, Whim knows there’s only one person in his city he can trust. Sunshine, raised in Whim’s aunt’s foster home, has idolized Whim since he was a kid. The young man is as brilliant as he is free-spirited, and his solutions to Whim’s troubles will either save the campaign or destroy them both.
Selection from “October Surprise”
A blackmail letter sneaks onto my desk in early spring. I’m on a call with a local school board member who needs to be reminded he’s essential, and I open my mail with indifference until the handwritten lettering peeks through. Chisel-tip marker, quite beautiful, if I’m honest. I look at the envelope again—good forgery of City Hall’s seal.
The message reads: I know your secret. When we meet, you’ll give me what I want. No questions asked.
The fellow from the school board pauses, so I mirror enough of what he’s said to make him continue on.
There’s a tiny part of me that’s pleased to receive a blackmail letter as the mayor of a mid-sized city. Death threats, I’d grown accustomed to during quarantine two years ago. But to be blackmailed … that’s proper validation.
The greater part of me is confused. Do I have a secret worthy of extortion? I’ve spoken openly, though not frequently, about my sexuality. I’m not exactly proud of my time in the Army, but there’s nothing to publicly shame me. As far as I know, I’ve never been successfully bribed. Maybe something from before. Before the military. Before my political ambitions.
Sunshine will know which of our old friends sent this.
I return the letter to its envelope, tuck it into my jacket pocket, and focus on my phone call.
After I’ve soothed the school board official, I sit in the silence. City Hall is a tomb after hours, a pristine echoing place, especially my office. The clean empty walls are cool and crisp as snow.
The last time I talked to Sunshine—not so much talking as moaning and panting, if I’m honest—I hadn’t returned his calls. He knew I wouldn’t. I’m the mayor of a mid-sized city, aiming to be governor, and he was … is … a strange kid. Feral, lawless, but not in a mean way. Boy’s heart is pure gold, just … unpredictable. He’s magic to kiss, heaven to hold, and impossible to keep. For me, anyway. Someone with less ambition and a softer heart might tame him. But he’s too fragile for my strength, too odd for my world.
Still, he answers the phone when I call. As usual, he doesn’t speak first.
“Sunshine, it’s me.”
“Naw, it ain’t.”
I smile to spite myself. “It’s Whim, then.”
“Shame on you, Whim, forgetting yourself.”
Considering the blackmail letter filling my pocket, is there shame in forgetting what deserves to be forgotten? “I’m glad you remember me. How’ve you been, son?”
Sunshine bucks against the small talk. “What color’s the sky where you are?”
“Black.” Then I look out the window and consider the darkest part of this southern sunset. The springtime heat floats in a haze above the asphalt. Rows of city-approved palmettos and oaks sway in the glow of streetlights, and the skyscrapers hemming in the historic district reflect the peaceful twilight. The glowing dome of City Hall dims the stars. “Hazy gray.”
“I’ve been where the sky is purple in the night.”
“You outside the city?”
“Yup. Just ’cross the river. I like your town, Mayor Whim.”
His endorsement means more to me than a dozen donors. “Proud to hear that. Listen, I’d like to—”
“Where and when?”
“Sunshine, you don’t even know why I’m calling.”
“You sound lonely.” I bet he’s smiling to hide his own aloneness. “You know I’ll keep you out of trouble.”
In more ways than one. “Nothing has changed, son. If I’m honest—”
“I know it.” He has no patience for my defenses.
“Let’s—as a thought experiment—keep it professional. Set some boundaries.”
He laughs at my attempt. “Come and fuck me, Whim.”
I pinch the bridge of my nose, frustrated by his transparency and by the excited energy zipping through my spine. “I’d rather meet in public.”
“How’d that work last time?”
Last time. Winter. He’d worn a pink scarf from a street vendor, a long trench coat, and— I learned when he’d sauntered into my condo later—nothing else. The brightness of cheap cashmere on his mysterious dark skin … the platinum blond cloud of his shoulder-length afro … the memory burns my blood.
“It was a good effort.”
“We know how this goes, Whim. It’s like playing with matches in a pile of newspapers.”
Or a flamethrower in a weapons bunker.
“Come on over and start a fire.”