I thought I would share the first chapter of PRIDE MUST BE A PLACE today. As I gear up for the 2019 Muskoka Novel Marathon, which is where I will be writing my next novel…I’m also reflecting on my previous MNM achievements, failures and attempts. PRIDE is MOST DEFINITELY my most commercially successful novel to date. I wrote the first draft mostly at the 2015 Muskoka Novel Marathon. Here you go…the first chapter. I’ll include buy links at the bottom. You know…just in case you wish to read on. (-;
It’s hard to be yourself. I know, because I’ve been avoiding it for years. But I’ve also been embracing it. It’s hard to explain. You know when you know if you reveal too much of yourself you could be in for a world of trouble? Well, that pretty much sums it up for me. I live in a world where I’m not the same person all the time. I’m getting there. But I’m not ready yet. Not today, anyway. It sucks. I mean, it really sucks. A lot. But I’m not willing to destroy everything in my life just yet.
I think my father hates gays. Or, at least that’s how I see it. I can’t really know for sure what’s in his heart. Or if it will matter if (when) he finds out his oldest son is gay. I just know by the way he sneers when he sees them on TV, or out in the wild on those rare occasions when I’m with him. He looks down his nose at them like they’re some disease-carrying pariahs. It gives me this burning ache in the pit of my belly. Sometimes I think about the way he will eventually turn that scorn and disgust upon me, and I just want to die.
But I don’t think he knows.
I’m not one of those in-your-face gays like Alex Mills. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, so the joke goes. Alex is an awesome guy, sometimes. I love him, mostly. He’s my second best friend, next to Nettie English. But Alex is one of those friends I can’t bring home. Dad would take one look at him and know there’s something wrong with me, something gay with me. You don’t have friends like Alex Mills unless you’re one of them.
My father would love for me to dislike gays as much as he does. He’s such a homophobic bigot. I can’t believe I’m actually telling you this. It’s so humiliating to know something like this about a man you’re supposed to love and respect
But it’s true. Hopefully, he’s one of the last of a dying breed. I mean, it’s the 21st Century, right? We’re supposed to be accepting of our sexual preference differences. Heck, of all of our differences. But my father is still living in the 70s. Or 80s. Or whenever it was when it was socially acceptable to dislike someone based on their skin colour, or sexual orientation, or whatever it is that makes them different from ourselves. Who knows, maybe that kind of bigotry is making a comeback. It feels like it, anyway.
Like I said, it’s really hard to be yourself, when you’re trying so hard to be anyone but.
It gets harder when you decide you have to do something about the ‘situation’ escalating at school, when you don’t want your home life and school life to intersect.
I know after Alex’s latest episode getting pushed around that I can’t just stand by and let it happen anymore. I’m seventeen and I’ve been standing around letting things happen for most of my life. Sometimes you just get this fire in your belly. When you know there’s injustices happening right in front of your face, there comes a breaking point. Mine is today, when Alex got his face ploughed into a row of lockers by shock-jock Will Carter.
Will, like my father, is kind of a poster child for intolerance. I don’t have the strength to do anything about it at home, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to let it happen again at school.
As I wash the blood off Alex’s face in the boys’ washroom after Will’s latest stupid-ass attack, the idea is already forming in my head. I can’t be a wallflower anymore. For one thing, if I try really hard I can actually pass as straight. Alex doesn’t have that option. Alex would be the gayest kid at a gay kid convention. Seriously.
But, see, it’s not even about that. I’m so biased against us myself that I talk about passing like it’s a good thing. Passing isn’t good. Passing is admitting to yourself there is something wrong with being gay. I don’t want to pass anymore. Not at home and not at school. I want to be myself.
I don’t need to wear a nametag that says, Hello—I’m Ezra and I’m Gay! That’s not who I will ever be. But I do want to be gay Ezra, if you know what I mean. So begins the brainstorming.
After the blood is washed off, I practically feel myself mobilizing. I wish I could say we mobilize, but this has been a particularly heinous attack. Alex is in no mood to mobilize. He actually turtles after these things. Sometimes this flamboyantly beautiful—if somewhat annoying—creature whose light is shinier than any goddamn light in this entire school dims his light and it’s the most tragic thing you’ll ever see.
He’s often a nasty piece of work, my Alex. I have to be honest, because a friend knows a friend’s weaknesses. Alex’s is he’s self-centered and a bit of a bitch. Okay, a lot of a bitch. But still, he has a beautiful light. He’s always on and totally bubbly.
I don’t want Alex’s light to dim. I’ve known him since the first day of Grade 7 when we sat down beside each other in Mrs. Flint’s class. He, because I found out later that he had a secret crush on me. Me, because I knew we were the same. In some mysterious intrinsic way, I saw that the thing I was hiding—my ugly little secret—was the same thing he couldn’t hide if his life depended on it. Our friendship was destined.
I know I can’t do it alone. That’s where Nettie comes in. She’s been my next door neighbour since before either of us was even born. How best friend cliché is that? We pretty much had to be besties.
Convincing Alex that it’s time to do something is way harder than anything else. I know Nettie will be in like Flynn as soon as I bring it up. Nettie has always been dying for me to just be gay and get over it. Nettie’s parents are bleeding heart liberals. I know that if they were my parents, they’d practically beg me to be gay. That’s the kind of people they are. They raised their daughter right, too.
To be honest, even as I have this idea, I already know it’s one that Nettie has batted around for some time now. She’s the one who’s always wanting to change everyone for the better. I’m sure she voiced the idea long before I came up with it.
“We have to do something about the Will Carters of this world, Alex,” I say before leaving Alex at the mirror to inspect the damage while I turn to toss the wet ball of paper towel I had used to wipe down the new scrape on the side of his face. “We can’t let him get away with this crap. It’ll just escalate.”
“You know he just has a crush on me, don’t you?” he says. I look at his reflection and just shake my head. He smiles, but his hand is on the scrape now and I can tell by the way he’s touching it that it’s tender.
“Can we bypass the humour this time? I’m kind of severely pissed right now,” I say. Alex always tries to smother his emotions with humour or, even worse, sarcasm. It drives me crazy. “I’m gonna talk to Net. We need to do something to change the way crap goes down in this place. You know, form some kind of group or something. Like an alliance. Other schools have them, why can’t ours?”
“Because,” he says as he pirouettes away from the sink and makes his way to the door. Yep. He really is a stereotype. He does pirouette. And he does it well. “We live in Hicksville. And there’s more hicks in this school than you can shake a stick at. That’s why, my boy. Give up. So we get knocked around a bit here and there. It’ll pass. Just as soon as we get out of Hicksville and into the Big Smoke. We persevere, sweetie. It’s what our people do.”
He opens the door and walks out before I have a chance to respond. He’s like the best room leaver ever. There is so much to admire about Alex, I don’t know where to begin. You just have to get over his tremendous faults in order to see the good bits.
Before the door fully closes behind him, I race to catch up.
“Honey, we’re late for math. What I need right now is one more late slip. Greta would have my guts for garter-belts if I screwed up again this soon.”
Alex is an eighty-three year old woman. He throws out these phrases and metaphors and similes that nobody has ever used since 1939. He must have to drag them out of the Smithsonian or something, just to use them. The thing is, though, he almost always gets them slightly wrong. Greta is Ms. Rothschild, the Vice Principal. She likes getting on Alex’s ass, or so he imagines.
“Which is why I was going to suggest we cut math. You know it’s way better to cut than be late. What do you say? And I think you mean garters.”
“Huh? Whatever. Mr. Caine, when you say things like cut, you are speaking in a language I can understand,” he says, stopping dead in his tracks. “I knew there was a reason I fell in love with that adorable little face of yours.”
“Settle down. Wanna go to Elixir? I can text Nettie and she can meet us there after school.”
“You had me at cut math, you ninny.”
We make our way to the stairwell before anyone can spot and nail us for a tardy.
As we leave the school, though, I want to make sure he knows I was serious about my previous suggestion.
“We are going to do something, though,” I say. “About the homophobes in this school.”
“Buddy, you’re preaching to the choir. I don’t like it either. But we have the power to change both squat and diddly. What we do is wait. We wait it out until we can get out of Dodge and live among our true people. Don’t cause any waves, Ezra. Jesus, you, more than anyone, should know this. We hide. We accept the occasional bad-assery. We leave when we’re old enough to get out. Like I said, our people have been doing this for generations. No need to disrupt the status quo.”
“But don’t you see,” I say. “There is every reason to disrupt it. You know it’s so much better than it used to be. We have it so easy compared to the way it used to be. If we can convince a few kids to join some kind of alliance with us, we’ll be golden. And even if we can’t change Will’s opinion, the least we can do is shame him into not acting like the bigot he is.”
“We can be heroes,” Alex says. I cringe in preparation for the next line. Because he likes quoting that lyric and he always follows the line with the name, in case I don’t know the brilliance he is quoting. “David Bowie.”
“Thanks. I know I can count on you. To be someone I can’t count on.”
“Listen. Just get me to Elixir, get some coffee down my gullet and then talk to me. Maybe I’ll be more receptive to your superhero ways if I have enough caffeine floating through my veins to convince me it’s not all a bunch of foolishness.”
He stops at the corner just long enough to let a car pass us before he crosses. He’s doing his Alex walk, which is too fast for me to keep up. So I struggle behind him, which kind of kills the argument welling up inside me. It’s hard to argue with someone who is purposely out-walking you.
I guess I should just say it. Alex is a freakishly tall gazelle. And, um, I’m, how should I put this? Um, I’m short. Like, short short. Five three-ish. There. I said it.
By the time I reach the coffee shop, he’s impatiently holding the door open for me. I walk under the bridge he makes with his arm between the door and his body.
“I’m not going to let it drop this time,” I say. “You know what the Parachute—”
“Stop citing Parachute Club lyrics with me, Ezra. That was a different revolution. Not ours. Gays are accepted now, remember? You said it yourself. It’s so much better now.”
“You know that’s a crock of shit. We’re not accepted. You’re taking my words out of context. It’s better, yes. But it’s not good enough.”
“I’m going to sit down right here.” He plunks down in a bulky armchair in the alcove by the front window. Dust motes billow around him. He would have written those dust motes into his autobiography right then if he were writing one. He lives for shit like that. Ambiance, he would call it. “Please be a dear and stop talking smack long enough to get Mommy a latte. Mommy’s parched.”
“You’re such a…don’t you ever get tired of…ack.”
“That’s right, Ezra. Walk away. I need my—”
“Spaz,” I say as I toss a throw pillow at his head.
There’s almost never a way to get through to Alex. He always deflects, always approaches everything with humour or sarcasm or a mixture of both. He’s only serious when he’s talking about frivolous things, like Perez Hilton or Lady Gaga. Anything under the surface is strictly off limits. I mean, the guy just got his head smacked against a locker and he’s still okay with waiting. I’m not talking waiting for an hour for the dust to settle. He’s content to wait two years. It’s infuriating.
While I wait for our drinks, I text Nettie to let her know where to find us.
You: At Elixirs. Come.2:03pm
Nettie English: What the hell?2:07pm
“I think Nettie wants to know what’s going on. I texted her.” I show him my screen.
“She gets caught texting in class, she won’t have to worry what the hell? She’ll be living it.”
“Caramel, right?” I say, setting his latte down in front of him.
“You know me so well, Ezra. When are you gonna give up the farce and just ask me out, already? You know you want to. I’ll even send you a link to my favourite engagement ring.”
Here’s the thing. I would never in a million years be attracted to anyone at all like Alex. I mean, I guess he’s beautiful, with his crazy tall gazelle of a body and all. Thin as hell and dark. His skin is flawless, when it’s not getting pounded by losers like Will. But he’s just not my type. Gay isn’t a type, just so you know. We’re not destined to be together simply because we’re both gay boys going to the same school. Alex is too effeminate. I love him like a brother—well, like a sister—but nothing about him attracts me to him romantically.
The other thing is, I seriously don’t think he’s kidding when he says crap like that. I live with the suspicion that he still harbours a crush for me. It’s uncomfortable, but if neither of us treats it seriously we can kind of just let it ride. It’s never been a real issue, but I still get squicked out when he goes on about it.
I roll my eyes and sit down across from him. “It will never happen, Alex. I’m just not that into you.”
Without saying anything, he takes my phone out of my hand and texts something before sliding it back to me across the table between us.
I look at the screen.
You:Just come, bitch2:14pm
I don’t even have time to say anything to him before my phone vibrates in my hand.
Nettie English: Give Ez back his phone, douchenozzle2:15pm
Ha. Just like her.
“She says she loves you too,” I say to Alex. He laughs.
I sink into the oversized chair and close my eyes. My phone buzzes in my hand again, and at first I don’t bother looking at it because I know it’s Nettie giving him another dig. But when I finally do look, it isn’t her. It’s actually my little brother.
Malcolm Caine: Mr. Wallace was looking for you. Said he saw you leaving school. You’re in shit, dumbass. Came to my class.2:18pm
Damn. All I need is for my father to catch me cutting class. I sit up in my chair and almost spill my latte.
“What’s up?” Alex says. “What’s she saying now?”
“It’s not Net. It’s Malcolm. Wallace saw me leaving school. Man. I do not need this.”
“Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time. Obviously he saw me too. Do you see me sweating in my shoes?”
“Wow,” I say, dropping my phone onto the table. “That is so helpful. Thank you.”
“I do what I can.” His gaze is on his screen. Whatever he’s doing, he hasn’t looked up once since he sat down. I’m guessing Perez. He’s a gossip whore.
“I have to figure out an alibi.”
“How about you caught me?” He laughs and keeps typing furiously on his screen. “You’re too hung up on little things, Ezra. Be more chill.”
Easy for him to say. His father isn’t a crazy raving Neanderthal. On the other hand, I don’t know if his father’s known his whereabouts at all since about 2012. And Alex lives with his father. If you can call it that. I mean, they reside at the same house. But I’ve been to Alex’s house about ten times in the last two weeks and I did not see his father once. There was a rumour—that one night—that he was in his bedroom sleeping.
Alex’s dad is cool with his son being gay, but only because he doesn’t give a crap what he does. The only thing he did when he found out was put a lifetime supply of condoms under the sink in the upstairs bathroom. Like condoms are the only thing a gay boy will ever need. The man associated gay with one thing, sex.
My father might be a racist bigot homophobe, but he’s a caring racist bigot homophobe. He checks to make sure his kids are in their beds at night. You would think a single parent would be more protective of his son, but if I’d have to call their relationship anything, it would be roommates.
I ignore his last comments and text Malcolm back.
You: What did you tell him?2:23pm
Malcolm Caine: I didn’t narc you out or anything, E. Told him I didn’t know.2:24pm
Pretty awesome for a minor-niner. Nothing I can do about it. I guess Alex is right. Caught red-handed.
After school lets out for the day, kids start to trickle in to Elixir, backpacks slung over their shoulders.
When Marc comes in, I do my best not to notice. You know, if you want to know what’s harder than not being yourself, it has to be pretending you’re not crazy attracted to someone you’ll never in a million years have a chance to be with. Marc is that person for me.
END CHAPTER ONE. I hope you enjoyed this glimpse!
If you wish to continue, you can pick up PRIDE MUST BE A PLACE by clicking on the cover below: