Today I am so pleased to welcome Rob Rosen to Joyfully Jay. Rob has come to talk to share an exclusive excerpt from his book, Ted of the d’Urbervilles. He has also brought along a great giveaway. Please join me in giving Rob a big welcome!
I found myself in a tangle of trains. Not passenger trains, but the kind that carries stuff. Coal, lumber, crates. No train cars. Nothing I could hop into so much as on. I wasn’t counting on this. I thought I’d slide open a door and bum a ride. But a ride to where? Even if I could hop on, where would I wind up? I clearly hadn’t given it enough thought. To be fair, my head was full of Chuck at the time, a peg missing its hole. It was, as analogies went, a fine one.
I needed to travel east. East I could figure out. East was away from the Rockies. But all the trains were parked. Which way were they headed once they left? And what if I hopped on and the train never stopped until its destination? What if we started east and then headed south?
I sat on the track. My salvation was somewhere in front of me. Eeny, meeny, miny, which one would the mo choose?
“Where you headed?”
I jumped. I fell backward. I stared up, shielding my face with my hand. A guy stood there staring down at me. He was on the dirty side, young, like me, gaunt, shorter by a foot. I’d seen men like this around San Francisco. I avoided men like this. You wound up homeless for a lot of reasons. You also stayed homeless for a lot of reasons. This guy either started or wound up that way because of drugs. His hand twitched. His right eye did the same. Manic would’ve been a good word for it. Or a bad one.
“Just looking,” I said as I righted my butt back on the tracks. “I like trains.”
I turned away from him. I hoped he’d take the hint. Sadly, he sat down next to me instead.
“You can’t hop them,” he said. “They check. They’re watching you right now even.” He pointed up to a lamppost. I could see the camera. It didn’t matter; there was nothing to hop into. And even if I could make it on top of a car, it would be crazy dangerous. And windy. And cold. Not an adventure so much as an ordeal. “Benny,” he said, holding out a hand. He had long nails. Dirty nails. His current state had always been a possible future for me. I seemed to always be running from it. But in which direction, away or towards?
I didn’t shake his hand. I nodded his way instead. “Ted.”
He put his hand by his side. He frowned. I felt bad. I was homeless. He was homeless. It wasn’t a bond so much as a prison sentence we shared. “Where you headed?” he repeated.
“That’s where I started.”
My heart pulsed. If he started from there, he knew which way to head. I pointed in front of me. “Which one goes that way?”
His grin returned. His teeth were in need of a brushing. He looked like a scrawny, shorter, pimplier Justin Bieber—if Justin Bieber hadn’t showered in a week or had a haircut or shave in ten. I felt bad for Benny. I felt scared of Benny. Were people scared of me when they saw me? I was judging a book by its cover, but covers are a pretty good indication of what’s inside. I sensed Benny was rotting from the inside out, that all he had left was a tattered cover. I didn’t want to be a part of Benny’s story, but our plotlines had intersected just the same.
In any case, he shrugged. “Been in Denver a month. My train has long come and gone.” Again, he pointed. “That one goes east.”
“How do you know?”
The shrug hadn’t moved. “That terminal is a dead end. Trains enter that way and go back the way they came. That train came from the east. Do you have any drugs on you?”
It was an unsettling segue. Benny was unsettling. You could turn a bend and wind up like Benny. Benny had no hope. You could see it in his eyes. That is to say, you couldn’t see it. “I don’t do drugs.”
“You shouldn’t do drugs.”
He rested his head on his knee. “Yep.”
“It’s not that easy though, right?”
He turned his face my way. He’d been cute once. You could see it if you tried. How many people still tried? “Nope. Any money for drugs? I could trade you.”
I knew what he had to trade. I had the same thing to trade. “I have less than six dollars on me.”
He sighed. He turned his face back to the starting position. “Figures.” We sat there in silence. The trains didn’t budge. Maybe this was a graveyard of sorts. Maybe trains came here to die. Maybe Benny came here to die. Me, I had other plans.
“I have an idea,” he said.
I tended to doubt Benny had too many of them—good ones, at any rate. Still, beggars, choosers, etcetera, etcetera. “I’m listening.”
He stood. He walked away. I followed, despite my better judgement. We walked down a bit, between two trains. I doubted we could be seen. Even if we could, this wasn’t illegal. At least not yet. “There,” he said, finger aimed at a length of shiny, new cars that sat in two tiers, easily thirty of them.
That could work, I thought. I could ride inside of one. But how do I get inside? “Can you pick a lock, Benny?”
He shook his head. “Yep, but not a car one. You?”
Not even close. “Thanks for trying.” I turned to walk away. Benny could get back to his plot-line. I could find another trucker. Hope had a way of splintering.
“Don’t need to pick a lock,” he hollered at me when I was ten feet away, his voice echoing between the cars.
I stopped. I had two options. I went with the dumb one. Meaning, I turned back around. I didn’t lock eyes with Benny like I had with Giselle and Chuck. I didn’t want to be tethered to Benny. I had enough of my own baggage to carry. “No?”
He pointed up. “It’ll be dark soon. They won’t be able to see us then.”
I didn’t want to be alone with Benny in the dark. The light wasn’t much better. But I had to be in New York in about five days. The train would get me there the fastest. Benny needed drugs. I needed Benny. The need was no less great for either one of us. Which is to say, I replied, “What do you have in mind?”
“Food,” he said.
“We need food. I can’t go into the McDonald’s anymore. They kick me out as soon as they see me. You can pass. You can walk around, grab us some. It’s a long train ride. What if the train doesn’t stop?”
“Food,” I said.
I sighed. My association with Benny needed to end, but here we were, scheming together. And Bonnie and Clyde we were not. I was Bonnie, I supposed, as Benny wasn’t gay. My gaydar was reading at baseline. “Where’s the McDonald’s?”
“Ten minutes from here.”
Ten minutes there, ten minutes back. “What if the train leaves?”
His shrug returned. Maybe it’d never left. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
I wondered how many brain cells that bit of advice took, and how many he had left to spare. “Come on,” I said.
He smiled. He was still hopeless looking, but at least he had something to do besides sit there or look for his next hit.
We walked side by side.
“Where you from, Ted?”
“Nice,” he said. “Cold, right? Rich, right? Gay, right?”
Benny was a font of knowledge. “Yes, yes, and yes.” I changed the subject. If Benny was a homophobe, I didn’t want to know. If Benny was dangerous, I didn’t want to know. Ignorance wasn’t blissful so much as easier to handle. “Are you from New York?”
“Nope,” he said. “Detroit. My parents lost their jobs at the car plant. They couldn’t afford to keep me.”
He made it sound like he was the family dog. I cringed at the comment. “So you went to New York?”
“I was in all my high school plays. I can sing. I can act. I’m reasonably cute.” He paused. He knew what he looked like now. “New York seemed like a good idea.”
I didn’t ask if it was a good idea in practice like it was in thought; I already knew the answer. “There’s a thousand cute singers and actors in New York, right?”
I could hear him sigh. It sounded more like a wheeze. “I should’ve headed for L.A. At least there it’s warm out on the streets.” He started to sing. It came out warbly at first. It grew surprisingly pretty. The cover had an inside jacket I’d missed. Benny was singing show tunes. Benny wasn’t gay. Wonders never ceased.
We reached the McDonald’s. The song ended. I looked his way. He smiled. He had an audience at last. Too bad I couldn’t afford the admission. “Find a bag. Circle. Make it quick. Don’t stop. Don’t talk. Only go for abandoned trays.”
He didn’t need to tell me all this; I was already an old pro. If no one complained, they let you do it. They all earned minimum wage; bouncer wasn’t in the job description. Homeless people could be dangerous. A McJob wasn’t worth a McLife.
I walked inside. I grabbed a bag from the garbage. It was a big McDonald’s. The place was crowded. The pickings were far from slim. I doubt anyone even noticed me. Or cared. Like Benny had said, I passed. Benny had clearly failed. He was also waiting for me outside. Prayers, after all, rarely get answered.
He whistled at my hall. “You’ve done this before.”
It wasn’t a compliment I relished. “Thanks.” I was polite just the same. Mom would’ve been proud—had Mom lived to see the day her son semi-robbed a McDonald’s. The irony of it all wasn’t lost on me.
I reached inside my jeans as we hightailed out of there, my backpack bouncing off my back as we double-timed it, because it wasn’t just half-eaten french fries that I’d stolen.
“A cellphone!” he shouted.
I winced. I looked around. The street was empty. I also now had a small portable battery, so there would be power for it for a while. I went to the phone settings and made sure the device would stay on, post-password. I now had GPS. I would know where I was headed. I could check my email, even though I had no email to check. I stopped looking at Facebook years earlier. What was the point?
The phone’s owner’s name was Juanita. Her boyfriend had a big dick. It filled up the screen, pic after pic. Benny looked down and repeated the whistle. “Dude could make good money with that.” I stopped looking. Benny took all the joy out of it. Benny was a Dyson in the joy-sucking department. “What’s Juanita look like?” I swiped with my finger. “Not my type.” Well, at least Benny didn’t settle.
We were back at the train tracks five minutes later. The cars were right where we left them, shining in the remaining light of day.
I sat on the tracks. I split a burger with Benny, a half a box of fries. I split a box of juice with Benny. The rest I’d need for my journey. I waited for the darkness. Waiting for darkness is about as much fun as watching grass grow, only, you don’t get a lawn for your troubles; you just get darkness. I didn’t like darkness. When you’re homeless, there are no lights to flick on.
Orange turned to red to blue to black. We were between the trains now, the farthest away from the nearest light that we could get. If the camera was on, it wasn’t seeing us. “Well?” I asked. I dreaded asking it a second later. “Why do you have a gun, Benny?” My melon-sized gulp had made a triumphant reappearance. My throat was Saharan. The gulp got stuck in place.
“I stole it.”
“Yeah,” I said. “But why do you need it?”
“Comes in handy.” His arm rose, he aimed, he fired. BOOM! The sound was deafening. It echoed loudly off the trains. Heck, it sounded like it echoed off the very Rockies themselves. My eyes had winced shut. When I opened them, there was a hole in one of the car windows. Poor Prius didn’t know what hit it. “See. Handy.”
Ted is an orphan, a young gay man living on the streets following the death of both his parents. Hope seems futile, though hope is exactly what he finds when a surprising email informs him that an unknown wealthy relative has died, that a reading of a will is soon to occur clear across the country. Ted will inherit something, but what that something is remains to be seen.
Benny is a young, homeless drug addict, straight except for when cash is involved. Benny has never had a reason to be hopeful about anything until a chance encounter with Ted.
Both men are soon traveling together from state to state, making ends meet however they can, rushing to the reading of the will that may or may not change both their lives forever. An unexpected friendship quickly forms, and then just as unexpectedly blossoms into something more as their adventure ultimately leads them to their fates.
At turns darkly funny and tragic, deeply erotic and poignant, Ted of the d’Urbervilles uniquely shines a light on the phrase “Love is Love” — though who they will find it with remains a mystery until the very end
Multi-award-winning and best-selling author/editor/anthologist Rob Rosen is the author of Sparkle: The Queerest Book You’ll Ever Love, Divas Las Vegas, Hot Lava, Southern Fried, Queerwolf, Vamp, Queens of the Apocalypse, Creature Comfort, Fate, Midlife Crisis, Fierce, And God Belched, Mary, Queen of Scotch, and Ted of the d’Urbervilles. His short stories have appeared in more than 200 anthologies. You can find 20 of them in his erotic romance anthology Good & Hot. He is also the editor of Lust in Time: Erotic Romance Through the Ages, Men of the Manor, Best Gay Erotica 2015 and Best Gay Erotica of the Year, Volumes 1, 2, 3 and 4. Please visit him at www.therobrosen.com
Rob has brought 3 PDF copies of Ted of the d’Urbervilles, one each for three lucky readers. Just leave a comment at the end of the post to enter. The contest ends on Sunday, May 10th at 11:59 pm ET.
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