Devin was lost in thought, wondering as he often did if any of his life would be right. And how things always seemed just that little bit wrong. Ben is a great person. I know he loves me, but … damn it, is that enough?
Ben and his husband, Devin, were waiting in a sales office for their salesman Bill Garrand to return. T.O. Boat Sales was located, appropriately, downtown on Toronto’s waterfront.
Reaching for Devin’s hand, Ben smiled. "This is going to be great. Just think of the peace and quiet."
"Yeah, I am." Too late now if … It is too late! Well, get a grip! Devin smiled at his husband, determined to do just that. Ben has had a rough time; first his parents dying, then his writing not going as well as he’d hoped. I am not going to be another disappointment to him. Not like he is going to … stop it. That’s not fair. You knew it when you married him.
"I know I’ll be able to write properly again. Let the Wind can’t be the only novel I have in me."
"It’s not, Benny, it’s not." Devin had said it but wasn’t so sure. "Once we’re settled, everything will be better."
Ben leaned close and kissed Devin softly. "Thanks … I mean, for believing in me. It ..."
Ben’s words were cut short as Garrand returned. "Here you go! All the paperwork is done. You’ve rented your mooring; I’ve got the slip number. The boat will be delivered there on Tuesday." He handed a vinyl folder to Ben. "Everything is in there including my card. Let me know if there is anything else I can do for you." Nice guys but … please don’t call me until the warranty expires.
After handshakes with Garrand, the couple left the office.
"So, babe, where to now?" Devin asked. God, why did I agree to this? Can we just go home?
"Um, since we’re down here, I want to go to Himmel’s Boat Supply. Pick up a few things we’ll need."
"Sure, okay, and then how about lunch?"
Ben smiled. "Yeah, good idea."
They made their way to the boat supply store. Devin looked at the cart filled with who knew what for boats. Now they stood with the sales guy who was discussing the need for something called a bubbler.
"If you plan to live on your boat all year, you need these for winter."
Ben looked at the good-sized box. "Okay, we are new at this, so what will this do?"
Richard the salesman said, "They help keep ice from forming around the boat. If ice forms, it can crack the hull." Richard patted the box and added three more bubblers. "Living on a boat full time is not easy or for the faint of heart. You need these, trust me."
While Ben stood in line, Devin picked up free copies of NOW and Insider Entertainment. Tucking NOW under his arm he looked at the want ads in the Insider. His eyes widened. He trotted over to Ben and pointed at the paper. "Look at this."
"What is it?" Ben looked down. Wanted: Writer for a new show on SNET. Preferred for this show is a writer familiar with gay culture in Toronto.
"Why not try this? You can still write a novel … At least with this you’ll get paid for your writing."
Ben turned to his husband. He knew Devin was worried, and he was right, he could still write another novel. "Yeah, hang onto that. I’ve never tried writing a script. You work hard supporting us … it’s time I do the same."
Meanwhile, twenty minutes away as the crow flies, Gail McAlister sat in her beautifully appointed office in downtown Toronto. She was busy yelling at her assistant. "I want Gay writers for this show. It’s a Gay show!" She tucked the novel she’d been looking at into her left side drawer.
Terrence cleared his throat. "I feel I need to remind madam, we cannot exclude anyone based on sexuali … I mean orientation." He stopped when he saw her icy glare. "Ah, of course, ma'am."
"Terrence, you should know that I do not need to be reminded." She picked up an emery board and quickly filed a nail to a point. As she lay the tool down, she said, "SNET is mine. I want a Gay Show, written by Gay Writers. I want you at that cattle call. Find me ten of the best, and I will vet them myself."
He nodded curtly. "Yes, madam. Your weak attempt at remaining legal went out to the papers with the rest of the pitches today. I believe the Gay one is third on the list." He picked up the filled ashtray on her desk. There wasn't a single bit of tobacco left attached to any of the filters.
Gail brightened. She shook the bottle of sky-blue nail polish she had picked up. "Good!" She pointedly chose to ignore the barb from her far too snarky assistant, but she cocked her head. "Tell me again—why do I keep you around, Terrence?"
"Because you need entertainment, and ant farms require too much maintenance." He smiled just slightly at her, the ashtray still in hand. "Will that be all, madam?"
She sighed and waved him off. "Yes, yes. Go on, do whatever it is you do." She leaned forward. "Remember—the best! I want the best writers we can find standing in front of my desk on Wednesday!"
"Yes, ma'am. Only the best." Terrence spun on his heel. "Oh," he said, but continued to walk away toward the oaken doors of the office, "the health inspector is here to ensure you've stopped smoking in employee spaces. I'll have him sent up!"
Gail glared at the plump man's back as he swept from the room. She sighed deeply, retrieved her checkbook from a drawer, and irritably hit the intercom button. "Terrence! Tell me how much the fee is for the fourth offense." She loomed over the device on her desk. "No snideness in your voice or this is your last day!"
"Oh, madam promises such sweet things. Of course. I'll have that information for you soon."
Gail worked her jaw, debating like she did a dozen times a day if she would make good on her threat. Moments later, the information she had requested appeared on her computer screen in an email.
She sat forward in her chair and flipped open the checkbook. "You're lucky you're good, you smart-assed tart."
Frank rubbed his jaw and looked at the printed list of new pitches and projects sent by SNET. He heard Ike banging in the kitchen, and soon the smell of frying eggs filled the air.
Ike was in charge of breakfast while Frank looked over the list, though the continued sound of frying made Frank lean back to peer into the kitchen. His tall, broad husband stood at the stove, staring down at what Frank assumed had to be some very done eggs.
"You need help?" Frank began to push back from the coffee table where his papers lay spread about.
"I can fry eggs," Ike growled. He scraped with a spatula and cursed under his breath when they stuck to the pan. "It's fine. You keep looking at that list."
Frank sighed and got up. He put the sheaf of potential projects down on the counter. "I want to be able to eat them, babe." Frank saw both irritation and relief on Ike's face as he took the spatula.
"Okay, fine." Ike picked up the papers, peering curiously at them. "SNET? What’s that?"
"SNET—The Soap Network: All Soaps, All the Time!" Frank repeated the commercial jingle he heard on the radio.
Ike wrinkled his nose. "Ugh. Soaps." He refocused on the job-posting and pointed at the third pitch on the list. "Hey! What about this one. The gay one." Ike cleared his throat. "'Preferred for this show are writers familiar with gay culture in Toronto.'"
Frank scraped the nearly burned eggs onto a plate and smiled. "Yeah, I was looking at that one too. I mean, I'm definitely a part of 'gay culture'." Frank reached and gently tapped the obvious bulge showing through Ike's jeans.
Ike grunted, and Frank smirked. Ike paged through the list as Frank tried to salvage their breakfast. "Well, that one looks interesting at least."
A slice of processed cheese went on Ike's hot eggs. Frank made a face as the stuff melted almost instantly. "Ugh, that's just not natural."
"You're missin' out." Ike grabbed his plate, then frowned at it. "What about toast?"
Frank snorted with a laugh. "I thought you were handling breakfast?"
"Oh, fuck no. You come in here and take over, you take it all over."
Frank grinned. "Fine."
While he finished up their meal, he continued to think about the call for writers for the Soap Network. Well, it can't hurt to try out, right?
Ben walked into an empty waiting room. Shit! Am I late? He wrote his name on the check-in sheet. There were lots of other names there. I must have gotten the time wrong somehow.
After taking a seat, he pulled out the demo piece they’d been asked to write. It was just as they’d asked for; a kindly, handsome Gay rancher opened up his spread to lost boys. Two of them were his main characters, Tom and Gerry.
It’s damn good writing. He looked it over again and was just tucking it back into his portfolio when a plump young man glided in and stood next to the desk.
The newcomer picked up a clipboard and touched his curly black hair with manicured fingers. He caught Ben’s eye. He didn’t smile.
"Good morning. I hope I’m not too late," Ben said. He straightened his tie.
The well-dressed man looked down at the list before answering. "Mister … Linton. No, you’re not late. The hours were staggered. We’ve seen the first couple of waves already." Terrence stared with some intensity at the man. "We will see you shortly. Do you have your sample piece I can take to look at?"
At that moment another person entered.
Frank took in the nearly empty room, and the pretty black guy standing near the desk. It seemed he had the check-in clipboard in his hand.
Terrence held it out to the athletically built Frank as he approached the desk, a neat paper-clipped sheaf of papers in hand. "Please sign in. I will be with you shortly."
"Okay, sounds good. This is my demo." The new fellow handed over the papers to Terrence.
Then the well-dressed assistant left the room. Ben jumped to his feet, waving the forgotten sample of his work. "Excuse me."
Shit. Ben returned to his place. This place is run by incompetents.
Frank watched the very straight-looking Ben before he took a seat. Then, smiling to himself, he added his name to the list. After dropping the document on the desk, he turned and grinned at Ben. "So, you’re my competition?" The affable man extended a hand. "I’m Frank. Good luck!"
"Thanks." Ben shook the hand politely. "Um … yeah. Same to you." Ben sized up his so-called competition. Looks like he writes for porn mags. I bet I can write him under the table.
Frank kept the pleased expression on his face. "May the best man win."
Ben bristled. Frank was either extremely confident at the outcome of their session, or he must not care. "Yes. Exactly." He sat back in his seat with a frown.
He seems nice. Frank took a contented breath as he waited for the assistant to return. A little nervous though, poor guy.
It wasn't long before Terrence poked his head around the doorframe. "Gentlemen, follow me, please. Bring your demo piece as well, Mister Linton."
Ben clutched his portfolio as he followed Frank down the hallway. Terrence led them into a conference room. There was a huge catered lunch, consisting of deli sandwiches, bags of chips, condiment choices, cookies, and pitchers of juices chilling on ice.
For the first time since he laid eyes on Terrence, the poised man seemed nervous to Ben. "Ah, there was an error with the caterer." He waved a hand over the food. "Have anything you'd like, please. While you two eat, we will review your demo pieces." He glanced back and forth between the pair. "You did both stick to the theme, correct? A gay rancher opens his home and ranch to young men kicked out for their sex … orientation."
Ben nodded and handed his demo over to Terrence. "Yes. Of course. I can follow directions."
"Yup," Frank said, but he was now looking at the food, trying to decide what he wanted to have first.
Terrence appeared pleased as he took the demo pieces and went to meet his boss.
"Well? How many do we need to speak with?” Gail fairly crowed when Terrence entered the office. "I am excited about this new project, Terrence."
"How many, ma’am?"
"Yes, how many writers showed up?"
"Well." Terrence stepped forward and lay two packets on her desk. He sighed and inclined his head at the demos.
Gail closed her eyes. "Terrence, so help me, I am not in the mood for your—”
"Only two applied, madam. When no one else called for application information, I padded the roster with random names from the phonebook just so they'd believe our call was worth applying to— that there was more interest."
"Two." The word stabbed like a knife. She stood and leaned over the desk. "Two?"
"Yes, ma'am." Terrence sensed where he could push and where he could not. This time, he avoided antagonizing his boss.
Gail exhaled in an attempt to calm herself. "Oh, very well. I’d best read these applications and their sample pieces." Gail picked up Frank’s and removed the paper clip. Without looking up, she said, "Terrence, go and fetch me a sandwich and a plate of sweets."
"Yes, of course. Madam could use some sugar to round out her nicotine diet." Before she could say anything, he left the room.
Gail lit a cigarette and pulled a long drag before exhaling a cloud of smoke above her head. "All right. I hope these are good." She began to read through Frank's submission and soon lost herself in his funny, lighthearted style. He wrote particularly engaging dialogue, and she laughed out loud twice in only a couple of minutes.
Before the cigarette had burned down halfway, Terrence returned with a plate. He slid it onto the corner of her desk. "Madam's lunch."
"Thank you, Terrence." She sniffed and looked over at the plate. "What is that?" Gail pointed accusingly at a small pile of vegetable sticks next to a large, overstuffed sandwich.
"Plants, madam. Like tobacco, except they won't kill a person."
Gail picked up a stick of celery and frowned at it. With a disdainful flick, she sent the vegetable flying across the room. "You forgot my cookie."
"Is madam trying to insult me?" Terrence lay a small paper bag on the desk. "White chocolate macadamia nut, and cashew with dark chocolate chunks." He sighed when she reached for the bag. "Must you eat dessert first?"
"Yes." She removed a cookie and gingerly bit into the treat. Terrence made himself useful and picked up the piece of celery she had rejected.
Gail scanned Ben's submission. Terrence noticed her posture change just slightly as she read his demographic information. She frowned at the first page. "Terrence. Why is this one's address the docks at the Western Marina?"
Terrence dropped the celery into the wastebasket. "He lives on a houseboat, madam. That's a bit further on in the application."
"Houseboat." She took another drag off her cigarette. Gail continued to stare at the information on the form. "Do you know of any soaps set on a houseboat?"
Terrence frowned. "No, why does mad—”
"And how many are set on ranches?" Gail took another bite of cookie, while her other hand continued to hold the lit cigarette.
"At least three, madam. And those are just the ones worth knowing about."
"Yes. And that was a point of concern from the test panel as soon as they read the pitch."
That was news to Terrence. "Ah, perhaps the market is saturated with ranch soaps?"
She took her time chewing the soft, moist cookie and was gratified to see the impatient frown on Terrence's face. She finally spoke. "Perhaps. And here, we've got writer one who writes funny dialogue, and another with experience on a houseboat." Gail smiled to herself. "Let them eat their lunch, then bring them in. Both of them."
Ben nibbled on a ham sandwich while he wondered how Frank could eat another. Plus pickles. He’s already eaten two salami and cheese! He does realize this is an interview? Hopefully, he doesn’t have any mints!
Frank took a swig of his coke while he gazed at the dessert selection. He turned to Ben. "Nice spread. I can’t choose between the brownies and cookies. So, I’m not going to." He selected one of each for his plate. "I’ll just have to row an extra mile or two."
The door opened, and the well-dressed man from earlier stepped in. He smiled. "My apologies, gentlemen. I did not introduce myself. I’m Terrence Bosinid, assistant to Gail McAlister, owner and CEO of SNET. Ms. McAlister was impressed with your work and would like to see you both immediately."
Ben put down his food. "Both of us?"
"Yes, both." Terrence gazed pointedly at the writer. Then he smiled and included Frank. "Please follow me."
Holding his portfolio like it was armour, Ben shot to his feet. Both he and Terrence turned to Frank, who smiled while shoving the remainder of the brownie into his mouth as he stood up.
"If we are now ready, gentlemen?" Terrence stepped toward the door. "Please follow me."
An hour or so later, Frank and Ben, the latest employees of SNET, were again following Terrence down a hallway on the sixteenth floor. He stopped at a room labeled: Writers 8.
"This one is yours, gentlemen. Inside you will find snacks, drinks, desks, and computers. Here are your IDs and initial sign-on codes. There is a list of telephone numbers you may need. If you require anything … do not call me. Jessie D’Cour is the P.A. for the writers on this floor. Please call her."
Frank looked through the documents. "So, um, are we expected to start now … today?"
"Not at all. We love paying people to do nothing." Terrence’s voice dripped with disdain. "Last week would have been preferable; however, we do not have a time machine!" He unlocked the door with his key card and pushed it open. "Welcome to SNET and congratulations."
Frank watched the man mince down the hall. "What a bitch that one is."
Leaving his new partner, Ben stepped past him into the office. "Who cares? Let’s just get to work. We have so much to do! I can’t believe she just changed the whole premise. Just like that. She said ranch, cowboys. I wrote that. I wrote the whole damn first hour!"
The office was pleasant, painted in a soft dove gray. The outside wall was all windows, allowing in plenty of natural light. There were six desks, three in a row with the other three facing. Each had a mini-computer and monitor. In the corner near the windows was a small kitchenette with a fridge, microwave, and a couple of cupboards. A grouping of two loveseats and an overstuffed chair rounded out the break area. The door next to it was a washroom.
Ben continued to grumble as Frank looked in the snack drawer in the kitchen and then turned his attention to the fridge. "Damn. I am liking this place already. The money is good too. And Benny, the benefits! Shit ... we’ve landed on our feet here." He pulled a can of cola from the fridge.
"Who cares? Come on. Doesn’t it bother you that she wants to move it all to some sleepy ass town and onto a houseboat?" He made a face. "I live on a houseboat. It's not exactly glamorous."
Frank selected a desk near the windows and sat down. He shook the mouse to awaken the computer. "Nope. I don’t care, Benny. Ranch or houseboat. I have a job. I can write this shit, no problem."
"Damnit, my name is Ben, not Benny." Only Devin gets to call me that.
Wow, this boy is uptight. "Right, Ben, sorry. What do you say we get started?" Frank looked at the desktop. "You, um, ever write with a partner before?"
"No, I haven’t. I think maybe we should use Google Docs, since we can share our work there. And maybe we each write a couple of characters. That way we can keep those voices separate."
"Sounds good." Frank opened Docs. He sensed Ben needed some confidence so he said, "So, ah, since we got to read each other’s work while with Gail, I think we should use your two guys, Tom and Gerry."
Frank could see Ben puff up slightly.
"Really? Wow, well thank you." Ben smiled. "So the houseboat has a captain … your guy, Lou?"
"Yeah, thanks, partner. Let’s talk premise."
Ben was silent for a moment and then he smiled. His first genuine one of the day. "Let’s."
They had ten days to put together the pilot. Nine days in, and after finally meeting the actors slotted to play their characters, Ben put the finishing touches on their last scene. He slumped back in his chair, sagging in relief. "Done." He looked over at Frank as he chewed on an eraser, deep in thought. "At least I think I am."
"I'm sure it's fine," Frank said easily. He put the mangled pencil down on the desk and wheeled himself over to look at Ben's screen.
Ben frowned. "You can see it on yours. We're sharing this document."
Frank waved a hand. "Yeah, I know. This is better." He began to read through Ben's scene, the one that would close the pilot.
As the silence drew on, Ben became antsy. He finally stood up. "I'm going to get some air."
"Wait." Frank pointed at the screen. "Here, it says Gerry didn't really notice Lou. I thought we were making him the sexual tension?" He smiled at Ben. "I mean, it's a soap, right? We gotta have tension."
Throughout their process, Ben had explained himself over and again, but he tried to be patient. "It's a slow burn. He doesn't notice yet."
Frank eyed Ben, then went back to the scene. "Okay. You're the published author."
"Yes. Yes, exactly." Ben ignored the dubious tone in Frank's voice. "Proof it for me, then let's get this thing to the directors. God, I just want it done."
In a matter of a few hours, the raw script went from the writers to the test panel, then to the directors. Then, after answering some questions, the duo was free from their obligations for the day.
Ben walked with Frank to the parking garage of the building. He had a hundred things on his mind, and his partner's chipper voice interrupted his thoughts. "Hey." They stopped next to Frank's compact car. "I feel like celebrating. I mean, we got past the test panel! This is a big deal, yeah?"
Ben knew the test panel was the place scripts went to die. If the panel rejected the script, then the writers were right back to square one — maybe even canceled. Their script had passed through the panel with zero changes. Their last item of business for the day had been to sign an additional contract to obligate both the network and the writers to the entire season. Ben nodded. "I guess it is."
"You bet it is." Frank unlocked the car. "Here, jump in. I'll take you to the dock. Let's talk about going out, or a party or something." Frank's eyes widened. "Hey! Let's do a watch party!"
"What? Like, you and I watch it together?"
"Yeah!" Frank had an overt excitement that was hard for Ben to ignore. "We can watch at my place in Port Joy. We've got a great television, lots of room. What do you think?"
Devin is already jealous. I can't hole up alone with this guy an hour away. "Ah, I don't know. It shows on Saturday, and I've not spent much time with Devin lately.
"Bring him!" Frank grinned. "Yeah, it'll be fun. I can meet him and you guys can meet Ike."
"Well, Gail did say we needed to get to know one another better." Ben considered it. "Okay, fine, let's do it."
The plan was set, though as soon as Frank dropped off Ben it became apparent that not everyone was happy with it.
"Why?" Devin's voice was almost a whine. "Why do we have to go anywhere? It's going to be broadcast on SNET, we can just watch it from here."
I knew it'd be a fight to get Devin off the boat. Ben pulled his reticent husband close as they stood in their little galley. "Dev, come on." He tried his best smile. "For me. Okay? Frank and I are supposed to get to know each other, so it was either this or me going there alone."
"Port Joy? God, that place is so expensive."
"We're not moving there, just going to see the pilot." Ben kissed the top of Devin's head. It was relatively easy thanks to their difference in height. "Frank is going to handle dinner. All we have to do is show up."
"We can't just show up." Devin surrendered and gave an irritated sigh. "Find out what kind of wine they like."
"I will!" Ben kissed him again then pulled out his phone. "It'll be a great time, I promise."
It was Saturday before Frank even knew it. Their soap wasn't exactly primetime, appearing in the seven-p.m. slot on SNET. That would give him time to get dinner together and get the house cleaned before Ben and Devin arrived.
"Why can’t we just order pizza?" Ike asked for the third time. "And do we really have to clean the whole damn house? Are they sleeping over? It’s the only weekend I’m home this month."
"This guy is my writing partner. I think a bit of effort is important. And maybe they will sleep over, we've got the room." Frank made a stab at being witty. "I’m going to make that simple chicken dish. It has tomatoes just like pizza!"
"Is that supposed to be funny? ‘Cause it’s not, Frank … not even a little." Ike picked up the Dyson vacuum like it weighed nothing and carried it up the bedroom steps. "I will vacuum up here and clean the bathroom and that’s it!"
Frank leaned against the counter where he was peeling potatoes and sighed. The chicken thighs were boned and halved and waited in the roasting pan for the remaining ingredients. I’m glad we can make this ahead of time and throw it in later.
The vacuum started upstairs and the sound of it banging into furniture made Frank flinch. He cast an irritated glance up the stairs, then went back to his meal prep. Well, at least he's doing it.
Frank worked hard, and Ike did help him, though it wasn't totally without complaint. As the time closed on five-thirty, Ike became more irritated. "How long are they going to be here?"
"Ike, I don't know." Frank just wanted a fun party, and his husband seemed intent on being cranky. He put a hand on his towering man as he stalked past. "Hey." Ike let Frank stop him and stood there, shoulders slumped and staring at the counter. "What's wrong with you?"
"I just wanted … I wanted time with you." Ike shook his head. "It's not important." He began to pull away.
"How about this." Frank slipped his arms around Ike's waist. "How about, we have the party, have a good time, and after I give you a nice, long massage?"
That got Ike's attention. "Yeah?"
"How long?" Ike's tongue appeared at the corner of his mouth.
"Long enough for you to go to sleep if you don't have a reason to stay awake."
That earned a grin. "You gonna give me a reason to stay up?"
Frank smirked and rubbed his crotch against the hard tube in Ike's jeans. "I think I might."
Ike's hands wandered down to Frank's ass. "I'm holding you to it." He leaned down and the men kissed.
Thank god. Frank felt relief as Ike released him to finish up some final little chores. I guess I'm on the bottom tonight. Buying a clean house with sex. Frank made a face at the thought. Oh, well.
It wasn't that Frank didn't enjoy sex with Ike; he did. But they both preferred to top, and sometimes that was a struggle for them. Ike was the kinkier of the pair. Frank was up for a bit of spanking or gentle restraints, but he put his foot down at wearing lycra body suits with strategically placed holes. Still, he’d go along with some of Ike’s needs; it was a price he'd willingly pay.
The knock on the door precluded any further thought on the topic. "Right on time." Frank slid the baking dish he had removed from the fridge into the oven. The plan was to hang out, drink, and socialize for a bit before dinner and then the show.
Frank hurried to the door. "Ike, they're here!" Both happy and a bit nervous, Frank opened their home to Ben and Devin.
Thanks to AC Benus, Thorn Wilde our wonderful editors. And to our Beta Readers, mollyhousemouse and Brayon! A very special thank you as well to Jim B for his reading skills. We are lucky to have you all onboard!