Still Life

Book Cover: Still Life
Editions:Digital: $ 3.99
ISBN: 978-1-62380-102-1

When Allan Song’s ex, Mac, shows up to model for the life drawing class Allan teaches, he turns everything upside-down. Mac is still as infuriatingly attractive as when Allan first met him—and still trying to figure out where he fits on the gender spectrum. He’s more than a little out of control, and he’s taken some stupid risks that have come back to haunt him. If they’re going to get back together, Allan wants a real relationship—but for that, he and Mac will need to look below the surface.

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Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
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Prologue

 

 

“STOP!” Allen batted his roommate’s hand off his shoulder.

“You’re getting that look.”

Allen scowled at the textbook on the table in front of him. “What look, Mac?”

A finger pressed lightly to Allen’s forehead, just above the bridge of his nose and his glasses, prompting him to swat again.

“The one that puts this incredibly lickable divot between your brows, turns your lips down at the corners, and tenses your shoulders up until you get a migraine.”

“You sure you’re straight?”

Mac wrinkled his nose and looked away. “I was just trying to ease the tension.”

“Right. That’s why you had your hand over my shoulder and halfway to my chest. I told you to cool it with that shit, straight boy.”

“It’s only to ease the tension,” he insisted.

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“Go find something to do, please. I have to get this paper done.” Mac’s bid to ease the tension was only causing more of it, and not in Allen’s shoulders either. It was getting very hard to ignore his attraction to his supposedly not-gay roommate, and that was just embarrassing.

Mac snarled softly. “I thought you handed that in yesterday.”

“I handed one in yesterday. This one is due on Monday, and I still have to get it in shape. And then type it up.” He sighed and once again pushed Mac’s hand out of his shirt. “I don’t have time for your brand of bicurious tension relief, dude.”

Mac blew a breath out as he trailed his hand off Allen’s shoulder. “I think you got that backward, but you know where to find me if you change your mind.” His hand lingered at the back of Allen’s neck, soft on the warm patch of skin.

“Mac.”

“Right.”

Ten minutes later, Allen’s cell phone beeped. He reached into his backpack for it and glanced at the screen, texted a frowning face back, and hit “send” before dropping it onto the table. It beeped every five minutes until he turned it off.

“Since when don’t you answer your cell?” Mac called from the bedroom.

“Since my dumbass roommate is being a jerk-off and trying to distract me!” He tossed the phone back into his pack and reached for another textbook. He counted six paper airplanes landing on the table, one in his hair, and one in his lap. Probably there were a dozen more peppered over the living room floor.

Mac was a pathetic shot.

Allen ignored them all, though the pink one with the red lip prints smeared across the wings made him smile.

“Where’d you get the lipstick?” he asked, flattening the plane so the lips matched up again.

“My secret stash,” Mac rumbled, still from the bedroom.

Allen chuckled, not a bit surprised Mac would keep a souvenir from one of his conquests.

Sunshine streaked across the table by the time Allen looked up again. That meant it was well past lunch, and he still wasn’t satisfied with his draft, though his stomach growled, far beyond caring about anything but a meal.

“Who’s the dumbass now?” Mac asked, voice gentle as he dropped a plastic plate with a sandwich and handful of potato chips onto the last clear space of table and set a cup of coffee next to it. “Eat.”

Allen glanced over as he picked up half the sandwich. “Nice apron.”

“You like that?”

Allen nodded around the sandwich. “That shade of pink goes with your skin tones.”

“Okay, dude? That is so gay.” Mac stalked off, back toward his room, and Allen nearly choked on the bit of bread in his mouth as he got a luscious eyeful of Mac’s bare ass and long, deliciously muscled legs.

“And that isn’t?” he called after his disappearing friend. “What the fuck, dude?

Mac just laughed.

It took all the tricks Allen knew to get his mind back on the paper he was trying to finish. It was dry, boring fare.

Nothing like that glimpse of Mac’s ass. Mac’s straight, untouchable ass.

“Fuck.” Allen pushed his notebook away.

“Maybe not fucking the first time, yeah?”

“What?” Allen looked up from where he’d been contemplating the image in his mind to where Mac stood leaning on the door frame of his bedroom. “The. Fuck.”

Mac’s face pinked. His expression began to crumble. “You hate it?”

Allen’s brows shot up. “It. Is a dress.”

Mac straightened and ran his hands—decidedly delicate ones, Allen suddenly noticed—down the front of the blue sundress he was wearing. “You hate—”

“No!” Allen shot out of his chair. “I don’t.”

Did he?

“It… actually…” He nodded. “It looks good on you.” And it did. He never would have pictured his friend in a dress, but here he was in front of him—inescapable—and as objective as he could be about it in this moment, he had to admit Mac was suddenly so very, very Mac. More than he ever had been in the two years they’d known each other.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. Strangely.” He took a moment to just breathe and look. “Yeah.”

Mac’s bright smile was as wide as ever, but somehow also shy. “Thanks.”

“Yeah.” Allen pushed his glasses up his nose. “Wait. You’re straight.”

Mac’s smile vanished. “I’m a lot of things, actually.”

“Clearly.” Allen took a few steps forward. “Clearly, I have not been paying attention.”

“Very clearly. Are you now?”

“Yeah.”

“Good.” Mac took the last few steps, and then took Allen’s face in both hands and kissed him in a way that definitely could not be ignored. Or mistaken for straight.

When he let him go, Allen’s glasses were perched crookedly on his nose. Mac carefully removed them and set them on the table. “You’re not freaked out.”

“Processing.”

“Good or bad?” Mac studied him, eyes darting over his face, teeth biting inside his lower lip.

“Stop that.” Allen touched his mouth. “Two years, and you’ve been hiding dresses in your closet all this time?”

“Just the one.” Mac’s voice barely rose above a whisper. “Just in case, you know?”

Allen nodded. “You could pass it off as left behind by some chick if I found it.”

Mac gave a slight, nodding shrug. “Lame, I guess, but—”

“Practical.” Allen reached over and lifted a bit of the silky skirt between thumb and finger. This was new, this fascination about what was under the filmy material. Not that he hadn’t seen Mac swagger around the apartment enough times buck naked, but this was different. Allen liked men. Always had. Liked the way jeans hugged their ass and cradled their parts, and the way a sweater stretched across broad shoulders… And he liked the way this skirt flirted around Mac’s thighs and hid what Allen knew was under there.

He stepped a little closer, dropping the skirt. Laying his palm flat on Mac’s thigh, he slid it up slowly, watching Mac’s flecked hazel eyes for any sign of discomfort. His fingers encountered lace and a hard bulge beneath. He cupped the delicately wrapped package and squeezed.

Mac’s eyes dropped closed, and his breath sighed out. His hips rocked forward, pushing his dick into Allen’s palm.

“You ever been with a guy before?” Allen touched his lips to Mac’s throat and kissed his way up.

“Not seriously.”

Allen leaned back a bit to look into his eyes again. “You sure about this?”

“Very.” He sighed again and leaned into Allen’s caresses. “I’ve been sure about this for two years. I just didn’t know.” He stepped back and spread his arms. “I knew with you, it had to be all or nothing. I didn’t want to hide….”

“Oh.”

“Now you’re freaked out.”

“I never thought a guy in a dress would turn me on like this.”

“Enough to do something about it?” Mac moved, boldly spreading his hand over Allen’s own erection, caged in his jeans.

“Not standing here.”

If anyone had told Allen a guy in a sky-blue sundress would ever drag him off to bed, he would have laughed. From the moment the dress hit the floor, Mac didn’t give Allen a chance to catch enough breath to beg for mercy, never mind laugh. And yet he couldn’t remember sex ever being so much fun as Mac laughed his way through trying to give his first blow job. Allen would have regretted coming all over his face if Mac hadn’t grinned so hard as he wiped it off with his fingers and licked them clean.

Allen wiggled down from where he was leaning against the headboard and pulled Mac against his side. “How did I miss this?”

Mac kissed him gently. “You didn’t. We’re here.”

“I guess so.” Allen breathed in Mac’s scent, closed his eyes, and just relaxed into the idea that this was real. He didn’t remember falling asleep.

Morning. Allen groaned and rolled out of bed. Mac’s bed.

“Oh shit.” Not morning. Sunshine brightening Mac’s western facing bedroom meant the sun was well past up and on its way down again, and he hadn’t even thought about typing his paper. “Shit!”

“Problem?” Mac appeared in the doorway, two cups of steaming coffee in one hand.

Allen half expected to see him in some sort of satin negligee, but he stood there in his familiar old grey track pants rolled up at the cuffs and hanging off his hips in a way that only made Allen want to push them the rest of the way down.

“Don’t even,” Mac warned, holding the coffee out with one hand and his pants up with the other. “You have work to do. Come on.”

Allen sighed, shuffled out to the table, and sat. “I don’t want this degree anymore.”

“Yes, you do.” Mac opened Allen’s laptop and tapped the mouse. “Better read it over. There might be typos. I’m told spell-check is really, really stupid.”

“Oh my God. You typed my paper.”

Mac grinned at him.

“You type with two fingers.”

Mac nodded.

Allen turned in his seat and gazed up at his… lover. “Last night you blew my mind, and this morning you got up and typed up my paper for me.”

Mac shrugged. “You didn’t laugh at the dress.” His grin softened to a less-certain smile. “You have no idea how huge that is, do you?”

“I just don’t know,”—Allen stood and reached for Mac’s hand—“how I never noticed.”

Mac punched his shoulder lightly. “You’re hard to distract.”

“Congratulations. I’m distracted.”

“You sure? Because I could put the dress back on,” Mac offered, pointing in the direction of the bedroom.

“I’m pretty sure all that would accomplish is you ending up naked again.”

“And?”

“And….” Allen glanced at his laptop. “No idea what my point was.”

Mac handed him his coffee and picked up the computer. “Come on. You can read in bed.”

 

 

Chapter One

 

 

A BEAD of sweat gathered at the base of the model’s throat and quivered on the edge of falling for half a minute before it finally broke the surface tension and slid down between his pecs. The twinkle of Christmas lights caught the drop, and it sparkled against dusky skin, all the way down until it disappeared into the sparse dusting of hair. My mouth fucking watered and I glanced around. All my students seemed intent on their easels. Thank God none of them noticed me practically drooling.

I glanced back to the man on the dais to find him watching me, a half smile curling his lips and a sultry glare fixed on me through his lashes. He blinked slowly, once. He fucking knew. Heat flashed up into my cheeks.

Grin widening, he hummed along with “Santa Baby” playing on the radio in the background.

I stepped out of the circle of students and mouthed the word “asshole” at him. He didn’t move a muscle otherwise, but his eyes narrowed a tiny bit and he lowered his gaze. He’d caught me staring, and he knew what he did to me. When he lifted those long lashes again, there was no mistaking the amusement in his eyes.

God, he was a jerk.

Santa, baby, hurry down the chimney—” I hammered the off button on the staticky radio with a snarl. A chorus of complaints rose from the students.

“Wrap it up, people!” I said loudly.

Several students jolted with surprise, but they made hurried assessments of their work, compared it to the model, and made last second additions.

“Mr. Mackenzie, if you could just stay still another few minutes, I’ll grab some pictures and we can tape your feet. Make it easier to find the pose next week.”

“Sure.” The model grinned at me and winked. “Anything you like.”

A refrain of catcalls filled the room and I glared at him.

“Good. Don’t move.” I stalked off and took my time fetching my phone from my jacket pocket.

“You going to Facebook those, Mr. Song?” one of the students asked.

“Professionalism, Bradley.” I snapped a photo from the front and shot Mackenzie a dark glare while he smirked. “I’ll e-mail them to you.”

The class laughed.

Once I had taken the shots and placed dots of masking tape on the dais so Mackenzie could find his spot next class, I patrolled the circle once more, commenting as I went.

“Brad, this is life drawing. I think you’ve shaded the man’s ass to death. It’s not that pretty. Move on. Balance. That goes for all of you. Don’t focus on one single aspect of your subject. Quickest way to lose the big picture. Look at your composition as a whole and find what sets it apart.”

Brad tilted his head and frowned as his gaze roved from his drawing, over the model, back to his work, and finally, back over the model again. At least I wasn’t the only one drooling.

“Seriously, Brad?” I said, leaning closer so the rest of the class couldn’t listen in, “Not that spectacular.”

Brad looked at me like I was crazy. “Don’t get out much do you, Teach?”

I raised an eyebrow and pointed at his drawing, which focused very much on the model’s considerable assets.

“Fine, all right. I might have gotten a little….”

“Picture’s worth a thousand words, Brad. You’re good at likenesses, but there’s more to a person than what he looks like.” I moved on.

“Jenny, nice work. Your proportions are good. You’ve been practicing.” The girl grinned and nodded. “Now remember that people don’t float, darling. Give him some context, yes? You have the Christmas tree in there, but there’s no interaction between subject and setting.” Her face fell. “No one part of the painting is any more important than any other. If it doesn’t work together as a whole, it won’t matter if you managed to draw every wart and wrinkle. It will still look flat and lifeless.”

I moved away from her station and addressed the class. “People don’t come to see art for photorealism, folks. They want to see your soul ripped open and splattered on the canvas. If you can’t bare it all here, in this classroom where it’s safe, you have no business taking this course. Be brave. Show me something.”

I strode to another easel and picked up another girl’s drawing.

“Like this.” I turned the drawing around so the whole class could see it. “Alyssa, here, is not afraid to get in there and really see.”

“She only drew his eyes and lips!” Brad complained.

“But look at it, Brad. I grant you, he has a nice ass, but look at this.” I rotated the smudged charcoal drawing to fully face him. “Tell me what you see.”

“Eyes. Pretty lips.” He shrugged. “A guy holding a Christmas ball and looking at his reflection.”

“He wants something,” Jenny said. “Something really important. He just… wants.” She glanced from the drawing to the man and flushed.

To his credit, Mackenzie didn’t bat an eyelash, but stood motionless for the students still feverishly getting down the last lines and shades.

“Good, Jenny. What else?” I surveyed the students paying attention.

“What else, people? Look!

“Lonely?” Someone asked, voice tentative.

“What, Dillon? You’re not sure?”

The young man shrugged, his attention flitting around to his fellow students. “Okay, fine. That drawing looks pissed off and sad and scared.” He glanced to Alyssa and back to me. “Maybe….” He cleared his throat. “Maybe someone wants to be seen. Noticed. Someone’s angry at being overlooked. Like they feel invisible, and all they want is just someone to look at them.”

“Good!”

Alyssa grabbed the drawing out of my hand and banged it back on her easel. “Whatever,” she mumbled, crossing her arms in front of herself and scowling.

I smiled. “Good. Get mad, Alyssa. Get good and mad. Scream and shout, and then paint, because that’s when you’re going to do your best work. Do me a favor. Go back in your portfolio and juxtapose this drawing with the one you did the first day of class. Come back here next week, and we’ll get Mac—” I snatched the nickname out of the air and slammed it away in my head where it belonged. “Mr. Mackenzie to pose again, and I want you to draw the difference between then and now.” I motioned to him that he could relax, and he eased himself out of the pose as I turned to face the class.

“In fact, I have an even better idea. I want you all to do this over the holidays. Have a good look at where you were when you started this class, and think hard about where you think you want to go. Take everything you’ve learned over first semester and apply it to a new study and show me where you want to end up.”

“That isn’t even a real assignment,” Brad complained. “What are we supposed to draw?”

“You, Bradley. Draw a self-portrait.”

He nodded, a look of relief washing over his face.

“But—”

Half the class groaned.

“Here it comes,” muttered Brad.

“No faces. No hands.” I caught Brad’s eye. “This isn’t about body parts and photorealism. It isn’t about your favorite teddy bear, your dream gallery opening, or all the tools of your trade. It’s about everything in between.” I pointed to Alyssa. “It’s about all the shit nobody knows about you. All the crap you never say out loud, the secrets you keep, and the ones that are killing you a little bit every day. All the bullshit you keep inside until it rots, and all the dreams and ambition and the most fragile bits of yourself you know you’ll never be able to protect, but that you try to anyway.” I pointed to Dillon. “And all the things you see and know that you aren’t supposed to see or know.”

“How?” Brad asked, a whine in his voice.

“I don’t know, Bradley.” I turned to him. “That’s what you have to figure out. Then bring it, show me, and if I believe you, you pass. You can fuck off the entire rest of the year. If you can pull this assignment off, nothing else matters.”

“No more life drawing.”

I shrugged. “That’ll be up to you. If you can convince me you have the guts to do this assignment, and do it for real, I’ll give you a gold star, and you can come join class or not, as you wish. I won’t force you to, and I won’t kick you out.”

“Are you daring me?” His eyes lit up with the challenge, and I puffed my chest out.

“Show me. Make me believe it.”

“Bring it,” he said. “You’ll see.”

“Okay, then.” I faced them all. “You have your assignment. Go forth and wreak havoc on the pub. I’m done with you miscreants ’til next week. It’ll be last class, so think about the assignment and make sure you have all the supplies you need, because I can’t guarantee I’ll be here to open up over the holidays if you forget something.”

“Oh, please.” Bradley snorted. “You aren’t going anywhere. You never do. You probably live here.”

The radio came back on, crooning Harry Bellefonte’s smooth tenor, spoiled by the scratchy static. He was soon nearly drowned out by the rag-tag stragglers chattering as they rinsed chalk and charcoal off their hands. Someone sang along, off tune, about half pennies and Christmas coming.

Bah, humbug.

I listened to the excited babble about holiday plans and drinking parties and tried not to show how eager I was just to have the lot of them out of there. Unobtrusively, Mackenzie hopped off the podium and made it to the washroom to change. I couldn’t help but agree, albeit silently, with Brad’s assessment of his attributes. He had a luscious ass. But then, I’d known that a long time before his first stint as my life drawing class’s model.

I was intimately familiar with the ass. Both the physical one and the man behind the body. My students didn’t need to know that, and I was at least grateful to Mackenzie for keeping that information to himself. Past was past, and I wanted it to stay there.

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