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Giving It Up

by Alexandra Y. Caluen

Dr. Liam Byrne had nothing to complain of. He was tall, he had good hair, his business was going great. But all the moves that went into building his career meant leaving people behind. At forty-two, what he needed was someone to share his life. He was starting to wonder if he’d missed his chance.

Mark Valance made the move from stage to television, was in year three of a recurring role, and knew he was living the dream … but it felt like a nightmare. At thirty-eight, he couldn’t breathe anymore. He had to kick the closet door open, before he lost his nerve.

When Liam and Mark met at their friends’ first Thanksgiving party, they had a moment. Neither of them was quite sure what it meant. They decided to meet again, to see if they could figure it out. Their next meeting lasted two days.

They were both tired of going it alone, and something felt right. Right enough to do whatever it took to figure out a future together.


Liam hadn’t been on a date since September. Not so long, in the big scheme of things, except it was only the second date he’d been on since Robert. Also the last one was a truly bad date. The guy showed up late, drank too much, played with his phone incessantly, bitched about his ex, and then tried to grope Liam on the way out of the restaurant. He’d made the story funny when he told Robert about it later. At the time – and now – it wasn’t funny at all. He told himself not to think about it. Not to think about any of the failures of the past ten years. This was a new chance, with a new man, and he was pretty sure he already knew the worst thing about this one.

He was home, in his jeans, and wondering if he should set the scene a little when his phone rang. He picked it up, saw Mark’s name, and thought oh fuck he’s cancelling. It felt like a kick in the gut. He took a deep breath and connected. “Hi Mark.”

“Hi. Look, I’m sorry – ”


“It’s okay. I understand.”

On the other end, hearing the depth of disappointment, Mark realized Liam thought he was cancelling. “No no no I’m here. I’m totally early. That’s why I’m apologizing. You probably just got home or something. Can you let me into the garage? Or would you rather I go away for a while?”

“No. I mean don’t go away. Yes. I’ll be down in a second to open the gate. Don’t go away.”

“I’m waiting.” Mark was smiling, because that reaction soothed a whole day’s worth of anxiety. Even if the guy had whips and chains this might be a good night.

“I’ll be right down.” Liam disconnected, made sure he had his keys with the gate-controller fob, bolted out his door. Ran down the hall, down the stairs, through the lobby. Stepped onto the outdoor landing, saw a nondescript gray compact sedan, saw a flash of dark-red hair and a smile’s worth of teeth behind a waving hand, and pressed the button to open the gate. He followed the car in, jogging along to indicate which space Mark should use. Waited nervously, only then noticing that he was barefoot.

Mark parked, switched off the engine, got out of the car. Reached back in for a bottle of prosecco. “I think this goes with everything, but if you hate it I can toss it back on the seat.” He was hoping his nerves didn’t show. Then he noticed Liam’s bare feet and thought he’s nervous too.

“I like pretty much everything with bubbles,” Liam confessed. “That’ll be perfect with Thai food. Though I have some beer that’s pretty good with it too.” He took a step toward the elevator, one hand extended back toward Mark.

The body language was definitely ‘come with me,’ and that was all Mark wanted to do. They didn’t speak in the elevator, or walking down the hall toward Liam’s open door. Then the door was closed. “Shall I put this in the fridge? Or is the food already here?”

“It’ll be here any minute. The fridge is good. God, I’m glad you’re here.” He didn’t mean to say that. “You look amazing.” Or that. He thought shut up very hard at himself. The man was wearing jeans and a sweater, same as Liam. It wasn’t the clothes that were amazing.

There was something Mark wanted to do. He needed both hands free. “Just a second.” He went past Liam to the kitchen – this open-plan living space might be half the apartment, with an eat-in kitchen and a sort of den/office combo – and put the wine in the sparkling-clean and well-stocked refrigerator. Noted the uncluttered counters. The high-end coffeemaker, and the storage at the end of the kitchen island. A shelf of high-end booze there, over a honeycomb wine rack. So much like his own kitchen it was startling. He wanted to see what else the place had to say about his host, but first, this. He returned to Liam, who hadn’t moved. Reached for one of his hands. “I’m glad I’m here, too.” They were standing mere inches apart.

Liam slowly lifted his free hand. Brushed his fingertips over Mark’s cheek, then into that mahogany hair. Made some kind of sound, and leaned in. Mark closed the distance and kissed him.

It wasn’t one of those movie-style kisses where people go from zero to sixty, from first contact to consummation, in three frenzied minutes. It wasn’t moaning, grabbing and devouring, tearing at clothes. It was silent and soft, gentle, oh and hello and it’s you. Then it was, briefly, yes. And what a relief.

The front-door buzzer sounded. Liam stepped back, filled his lungs, stared at Mark. Opened his mouth, couldn’t speak, gestured to the intercom. Mark squeezed his hand, then let go. He was feeling somewhat lightheaded but he could handle this. He was an actor, after all. He held down the button. “Hello?”

From the speaker: “Natalee Thai!”

“Be right there.”

Liam stepped past his guest, able to think again. Picked up the keys he didn’t remember dropping on the vintage console by his door, and went to get their dinner. Mark leaned on the wall, waiting.

There was a dreamlike quality to the meal. It was so prosaic. Takeout, eaten side by side at the kitchen island. Served on simple stoneware, with prosecco in mismatched souvenir glasses from national parks. They picked from each other’s plates, using lacquered Japanese-style  chopsticks or their fingers, talking mostly about the last time they ate Thai food, or the last time they ate with chopsticks, or the last time they’d been to a national park. Liam went to Western parks, on vacations. Mark went to Eastern parks, with his son. The only national park they’d both been to was Yosemite.

“I went in the spring a few years ago,” Mark said, when it seemed they were done eating. “Early in the season. It was cold as hell. There was good snow and they said the waterfalls would be epic later. But I wasn’t going to be able to get away then. The best part about it was there was hardly anybody else there. Half the park was still closed.”

“Were you there by yourself?”

“I’m always by myself.” It was matter-of-fact, not self-pitying. Not even bitter. They were turned toward each other, the takeout containers visible on the main counter and their plates pushed away. So not fancy. So intimate. Mark gazed at Liam, seeing understanding. He wanted to tell the man why, even though that understanding probably meant he didn’t have to. “I had an opportunity to do what very few people get to do, which is have a career as an entertainer. This was the price. Even if I stayed in New York, stayed on the stage, I couldn’t be who I am. Hardly anybody comes out while they’re working. A stage production is different, nobody expects open-mouthed kisses, obvious tongue, or nudity. Hardly any parts even call for that. But most male roles are assumed to be straight, and there are so few productions that will consider casting a gay man to play a straight role.”

“The other way around, more often,” Liam said. “I’ve noticed. And then they get all this credit for being brave.”

“Right. Things are changing now, but it’s still a risk.” A moment of silence.


'Giving it Up' is set 2010-2011.

About the Author

A long time ago and three thousand miles away, I wrote my first novel - a historical romance - during graduate school. Twenty years later I finally dusted it off and published it. Since then I have written and published many more novels and novellas; all romance, most contemporary. My characters (of various genders and ethnicities) range in age from eighteen to sixty-five, with the average falling in the mid-thirties. I'm inspired by authors like KJ Charles, Laurie R. King, Dick Francis, and Jennifer Crusie. I've lived and worked in Los Angeles since 1995.