Cover Design: Ry Higdon Photography
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He is that magical being that no one chooses to be, the third wheel. He has filled his life with happy couples, in various states of married bliss, that fills the hole in his heart with the acceptance and understanding he secretly craves.
Told by the people who know him best, The Year Of The Cock, is a year in the growth of their best friend, Jon. Can he learn to love, to open himself up to the messy truth of relationships? Will he finally become the person he has tried to repress his entire adult life or will the year-end with him stuck in the status quo of his gay bachelorhood?
Excerpt - Chapter 1
New Year’s Eve
My apartment sparkled with the promise of a great party. I spent all day hanging streamers and preparing for the festivities. By the time the caterer dropped off the food everything was perfect. I asked my friends to be here at 9 pm, and as always, they did not disappoint. By 9:30, we were all having a grand time. The doorbell rang, and it was someone I loved waiting there, excited to bring in the New Year with me. My friends are all a little insane, I mean, whose aren’t right? They’re just like everyone else in the world, doing their best to be happy. Hell, I guess I am too. Happiness comes, and happiness goes but the days trickle by, regardless.
The thing about my friends is that none of them really know each other. A few of them have met once or twice at some function or event, but very rarely. It’s not like I planned it that way or anything… It’s just the way life has worked out.
I am that strange magical being, the thing that no one ever strives to be, the third wheel, the hanger-on or even worse, the spare. You see, all of my friends are either married, partnered up, or engaged. If you look through the lens of my life, it appears glossy and slick, but it’s always in close-up. A tight solo shot of me because I have no one standing beside me, at least not for long. Relationships are messy, and I hate messy. I am the last living single gay man in Los Angeles. In my mind, I am the last single sane person who doesn’t want to belong to someone else. The thought of having to ask permission, or constantly worry about someone else’s thoughts and feelings sounds horrifying to me. It leaves me cold, and I’m not an ice princess, in fact, I think I run hotter than most people. I have emotions, passions, and fears just like everyone else. I just prefer being single.
My friends fill the void of a relationship. They are always my plus two.
Now, I haven’t purposely kept them apart. It just never really came up. I mean, they all know about each other, through my stories and bad double dates shared at one time or another with one of my couples.
My couples… yes, I do know how that sounds.
The first to arrive was Alan, one of my oldest friends, and his incredibly high-larious wife, Tami. Alan went to college with me, where he majored in frat parties and accounting. He tries hard to be a comedian but always ends up falling charmingly flat because he just isn’t quite as funny as he believes himself to be. His wife, Tami though is a character. She’s kind of quiet and then all of a sudden here comes a zinger. I mean, she’s Ginsu knife sharp. She was a poli-sci major from Brown, and she is eternally ready to graduate with the elusive master’s degree that she just can’t seem to finish. Honestly, I really don’t think she wants to. They’ve been married for close to ten years, just one year out of college and I got to be the best man at their wedding. They have a great relationship except when it comes to their vices. Hers is food, and she is always on a perpetual diet. He is a rotating cabinet of options. He gave up pot. He failed to give up drinking, which he attempts at random patterns, for health reasons of course. This year, it has been smoking. Alan is not very good at giving things up… Neither is Tami.
“First to arrive,” Alan laughs as he walked into the door. “Figures, See Tami I told you we would be the first ones here. Her inability to be late drives me crazy.”
“Piss off Alan,” she laughed easily, sauntering past him to kiss me lightly on the cheek. “I know I’m silly Jon darling, but honestly if we didn’t leave ASAP, I was going to have another slice of that fucking cake Alan’s mother sent over. I swear she is trying to give me diabetes so I will die and he can remarry.”
“Well Tami,” I said as she walked by me towards the food table. “You are the devil in the red dress that stole her son and made him move to the big city. And by the way, she sent me a cake too.”
“That evil hag,” Tami said spinning around with a look of shock on her face. “See Alan, I told you she hates me.”
“Honey, I know, my mother has been telling me that for years,” Alan said winking at me.
These two can keep their bantering up for hours. Flirtation for them is a little dangerous around the edges, but they both know where the line is, that secret place between teasing, flirting and causing pain and they rarely cross over it.
When they do, I go home.
Before Alan could start in on how busy he was going to be for the next few months (tax season of course) the doorbell rang again, and at this point, I had no idea which of my friends would be next. I knew who would be first, and I know who will be last, but the in-betweeners would be random. I excused myself and opened the door.
Julie and Pam were standing there looking like I caught them mid-squabble. Julie gave me a big smile, as Pam winked at me. Julie and Pam have been together for about seven years. They refuse to get married in the traditional sense and have had vows said on the beach in a domestic partnership ritual or something. They are amazing. Julie is a second-grade schoolteacher and has a very matronly look. I think people are surprised to discover she is a lesbian because there is something so incredibly Norman Rockwell about her. She is a little timid and always worried about what other people might think. In truth, she’s a little square and usually, the only sober person wherever she is.
Her “almost” wife, Pam is the complete opposite of her. Pam is a little more butch than her girlfriend and loves sports. She calls herself a lesbian cliché because she is a gym teacher and trainer. For someone who is as health conscious as she is, Pam loves to smoke pot. These two are the perfect pair for each other. Pam needs to control every aspect of her life and Julie seems to like being controlled, so a match made in heaven.
“Hi honey,” Julie said smiling at me holding a bottle of expensive looking champagne tightly in her hands. It was funny, given that she almost never drinks.
“Hello, gorgeous. Get in here,” I say opening my arms wide just to receive her warm embrace. Julie is a class A hugger, and if it were possible to hug professionally, she could be doing it. I think her hugs are about my favorite thing in the world because whenever she has her arms wrapped around you, you know, without a doubt, that you are truly cared for and loved.
“Sup player-player,” Pam said, smiling sheepishly. “Sorry about that. She was asking me to not drink too much tonight. She doesn’t want to drive with all the drunks on the road.”
“Well that’s out of the bag, isn’t it?” Julie said lightly. She said it as if she didn’t care, and that’s how Pam will take it, but I know differently.
“Why don’t you two stay in the guest bedroom tonight?” I say trying to ease the tension. I hope that it will help Julie relax and loosen up so she can let go and enjoy the party. “We can have brunch down the street tomorrow,” I add, trying to sweeten the pot.
“Oh honey, that wouldn’t be too much trouble?” Julie said her eyes opening wide. “That would be great. Wouldn’t it, Pam?” she said, waiting for the final word to be given.
“Sure, sounds great. Now can I please have a beer?” Pam said kissing her on the top of the head.
“You two go in and meet Alan and Tami,” I say, hearing footsteps down below climbing the stairs. My lesbian’s walk into the living room and I hear Alan and Pam trying to remember where they met that one time, many years ago.
I wait for whichever of my guests were currently ascending up to my second story walk-up apartment. I can tell that they are not wearing heels, so that must mean it’s my friends Kris and Danny, I love them. They just got engaged a few months ago, and I couldn’t be happier for them, really. They are both incredible people, and I am so glad they found each other in this city where no one seems to ever say hello unless they think you can do something for them. LA is so superficial… I love it.
I hear Kris laughing halfway up the stairs. He is just a tad bit neurotic; I think even he would admit that. Kris worries a lot and says that if he could just stop himself from thinking all the time, everything would be all right. He graduated from NYU, and I call him whenever I want fashion advice because he has the most amazing taste. Kris is truly a style genius. He’s also gorgeous… If I didn’t love him so much, I would have to hate him.
His partner Danny is pure country. He is from Mississippi and has the most adorable accent. What I love the most about Danny is how nothing ever fazes him. He is always so cool and collected and just soooo incredibly nice. We met and had sex when I first moved to LA, years ago and it, of course, didn’t work out, but somehow we have remarkably remained very close friends. I am even going to be the best man at their wedding on the Summer solstice. Danny is a total sci-fi nerd, and the date has something to do with King Arthur or something. Honestly, I was only half listening when he told me about it. I was just amazed at how lucky he was to catch Kris when he did. Some guys have all the luck, I swear.
I see Danny’s head come around the corner smiling at me. “Come on honey,” he says teasingly, tossing the words over his shoulder.
“Jon… Oh my goddess,” Kris says as he stumbles around the corner. “Honestly handsome we have got to get you a condo on the first floor. I am exhausted and need to take a siesta asap,” his smile beams at me from down the hallway. He has the most beautiful smile, it lights up wherever he is… I should hate him.
“Come in gentleman… and Kris,” I say teasingly. Sometimes I wonder if Danny thinks I am flirting with Kris. Sometimes I wonder if I am flirting with Kris. That would be very very bad. I tune it down, just a notch. “Danny, I know that you know Alan. Introduce yourselves please.”
They each give me a hug and kiss as Danny reaches around and pinches my butt. This is something we have done for years. Neither one of us remembers why, but I think we would each be devastated if we ever stopped. It’s soothing and calming like pulling on your favorite hoodie when there’s a chill in the air. I enjoy knowing what to expect, and Danny never disappoints me.
I hear the buzzer ring downstairs. I look over at Danny and Kris. “Hey did you guys keep the door propped open?” I ask, knowing the answer before I even ask.
“Are you kidding? That’s just asking someone to come in with a hatchet and turn you into a meat dress,” Kris says as if this is the most rational explanation. To him… it is.
“I’ll be back in a second,” I say opening the door for them. “Please talk about me while I’m gone,” I announce to my guests.
“I wouldn’t want to bore them, Jon,” Alan says grinning wickedly at me.
“I promise to keep everyone in line,” Danny says conspiratorially.
From the top of the stairs, I see another two of my favorite people in the world through the glass door. I think you are probably starting to see a pattern here. Nicole and Jim got married the day they graduated college. They are a couple years older than me and have become total health nuts in the last few years. Nicole is a lot like Julie, one of the nicest, sweetest and kindest human beings I have ever met. Nicole is positive and upbeat even when faced with adversity. She says it’s because of her faith. You would never know that she was a devout Christian. God is love to her, and that’s all she needs to know. She says the Bible is full of bullshit because it was written by flawed men and then edited by kings and people with agendas. I would worship her if she let me.
Her husband Jim is so very different from her. He’s a great guy and all, and I love him dearly, and we’ve become very close over the years, and I would do absolutely anything for him. It’s just… Well, he’s just very Massachusettsy. A total East Coast snob if ever there was one. Or that’s what Nicole says about him anyway. He just nods, agrees and moves on. I can’t tell if it bothers him or not, but my gut instinct is probably no. He seems to be happy with who he is flaws and all. He’s incredibly handsome, and kind of reminds me of a Kennedy. I just wish he could relax more. He’s always stressed out about work, I mean, he is a lawyer, so that makes sense and all, but I just wish he could mellow out a little bit more.
I get to the bottom of the stairs, and they are looking at me through the door, happy to see me. I know how lucky I am to have such great friends. I know this, and these two are incredibly unique. They just seem to get each other so well. They fit together in ways that I have never seen a couple fit. They make sense in ways that I have never seen humans make sense together. They are the perfect couple, and if I could find the person I made sense with then maybe… who knows.
“Hi guys,” I smile broadly at them. “Welcome to my bachelor pad,” I say this because Nicole is always teasing me about my place and my single lifestyle.
“Lucky you,” Jim says through clenched teeth. “You can fart and belch all you want.”
“Gross,” Nicole elbows him in the ribs lightly. “Lead on, you beautiful, sassy man you.” She says gesturing towards the stairs. “You might need to send the pulleys down and hire me a Sherpa. I have been neglecting my daily rituals.”
I look at her perfectly fit body and laugh at how silly she sometimes is. “I think you’ll survive the Matterhorn dear.”
“Move that ass,” Jim says as he playfully slaps her lightly on the behind. I can see from the set of her jaw that it was not appreciated. However, Nicole is too much of a lady to ever make a scene, another reason that I adore her.
“Don’t worry, there’s a boy halfway up with a water pail and a loaf of stale, moldy bread,” I tease as they start their climb. I make sure that the door is jammed open with the small piece of wood I sometimes use for occasions such as this. Well okay… Usually, it’s a date or a masseuse making an out call.
I take the stairs two at a time and catch up with Jim and Nicole who are quietly discussing something of dire importance, I am sure. “Am I interrupting?”
“Oh my love, you are never interrupting,” Jim says as he puts his hand on my shoulder. “I hope you realize how much you are loved, Jon.”
I am a little surprised by his admission. It’s raw and open and jagged and kind of messy. I love it because it comes from them, but it also makes me feel a little awkward. I’ve never been good at messy emotions, which is probably one of the biggest reasons I am single.
“Okay, boys. I need a glass of champagne. Can we love each other with a drink? Is Julie here already?” Nicole asks, smiling at me. I forget that those two actually know each other. They’re both teachers, so I guess that makes sense.
“Inside already,” I say opening the door.
“Thank you, kind sir,” She said as she giggled past me.
“Women,” Jim smiled as if this explained every mystery in the world.
“Queer,” I answer back.
“And how!” A voice squawks loudly from behind us. “As queer as a three dollar bill in the g string of Kim Jong Il the third. And honey that shit is just… well, gay.”
“Bitch,” I counter turning around slowly, a grin planted on my face.
“Hello, whoore,” my oldest guest whistles through his teeth teasingly. If anyone in this group could be considered family, it would be this old queen whom I adore more than just about anyone. Ted is a 60-year-old smart-ass with a heart of gold. He is probably the most cynical smart ass I have ever met, and I love every drop of acid he spews. Ted has really lived. He moved to LA from New York in the late 1980’s to escape from all of his friend’s funerals. He said he just couldn’t take wearing black ever again, and I don’t think he ever has. He’s a real survivor. He’s been HIV positive for over thirty years and somehow like a cockroach after the nuclear bomb fell, he survived when everyone he knew did not. I imagine, at one point in his life, he was probably very upbeat and happy. Now, he dishes to get by. He would kill for those he loves and is the most loyal person I know.
“Happy New Years Jon,” his partner of five years says in his easy-going way. “Is Kerry upstairs?”
Conrad is two years younger than me. I know how that sounds and I thought the same thing, at first. West Hollywood Boy toy, looking for a come up and hoping to get in the will before the old bag kicks it… but that would be wrong. Conrad is devoted to Ted. He takes care of him, makes him behave and take his meds and has a career and life all his own. Conrad is just in love with a man who could easily be his grandfather. Well, he’s not his father, but he does call him daddy if you get my drift. They are adorable.
“Kerry isn’t coming,” I said a little gloomy, but honestly our thousandth breakup was for the best.
“Oh Jon,” Conrad shook his head. “Sorry honey.”
“Jon dear,” Ted said winding up for the sting. “Can you please point this boy scout to the gin? Daddy needs a drink.” With that, he brushed past me and headed to the hors dourves. Ted always knows how to make an entrance. And now all of my guests had finally arrived.
The party was a huge success. Numbers were traded, Facebook friends were accepted, and followers were found on Instagram. It felt great to know that I was the glue who brought all these wonderful people together. I found myself floating around trying to keep everyone happy, imbibed and having a great time. Looking around, I knew how lucky I was that these people loved me. Then I remembered that each of them had someone else to love too. They each had someone to go home to and be held accountable by. I could never be that person. I didn’t want to be held accountable by anyone, especially not this faceless person who might be my other half. The thought at first made me feel like I couldn’t breathe as if someone had gut-punched me and I couldn’t catch my breath. I walked out to the balcony, hoping that no one had noticed and tried to release the tension in my body. Even surrounded by everyone I loved, I was still alone.
I realized I had been away long enough and started to head back inside when it hit me. I do have a place I belong. Love and relationships are messy, and they are for messy people. These people that I surround myself with are as close as I want to come to that.
“Darling, grab that bottle of champagne and pop it quick. The ball is going to drop in three minutes,” Ted said as he pushed the bottle into my hand. “You are the hostess with the mostess,” he winked at me.
I popped the cork and walked around filling everyone’s glass with the expensive bubbly. We gathered into a circle, and a hush fell over us as we all stared and smiled at each other. Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin were helping us count down and as the New Year hit everyone took their loved ones into their arms and gave them a passionate kiss. I stood there finishing my champagne. As they broke out of their private reveries, they all noticed me and I received the best group hug in the history of group hugs.
“For God sakes, Jon, this year I, want you to want more. Everyone deserves someone to love, my child,” Ted said lightly into my ear.
And that is how my year began.
Shane K Morton lives in Studio City, CA with his husband Jody and their fur baby Slayer. His first novel, The Trouble With Off-Campus Housing was published in 2016. When not writing, Shane can be found at a film festival or performing cabaret somewhere in a dark dive bar in LA.
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