An age-gap, cross-culture M/M romance novella.
Reggie Galant was a successful businessman: he ran a gay porn site called At Your Service, and it served him very well indeed. It supported his vocation as a painter, it bought his flat in London, and for a long time that was enough.
Ro Gallo wasn’t getting anywhere in L.A. It was his home city, but it didn’t feel like home: nothing there was his. One of his jobs paid the rent, the other one paid for his health insurance, and between them there was just enough left over to live.
They met by what might have been chance, at a party hosted by a mutual acquaintance. Two days later, Reggie asked Ro to visit him in London. Ro said he would.
They’d never been on a date, never touched beyond a handshake, never kissed. Maybe both of them were crazy. On the other hand, maybe neither of them were.
- 2 To Be Read lists
Publisher: Independently Published
“Have you always lived alone?”READ MORE
Reggie turned away from the computer. Apparently they were doing this now, and he hadn’t been forced to begin it. He tried to look relaxed. Ro wore a calm, neutral expression that Reggie couldn’t read at all. You little cat, he thought, suddenly recognizing the younger man’s affect. There was, now that he gave it some study, considerable felinity in the whole package. Had the eyes between those dramatically-shaped brows and the Mayan cheekbones been green rather than deep, velvety brown, he’d have gone straight to ‘jaguar.’ “Until I went to university I lived at home. While I was a student, I lived in an old carriage-house, with a mob of other students. As an upperclassman I spent a great deal of time in my studio, slept there even. Had guests occasionally.” Ro didn’t say anything, so he went on. “I lived with a lover for the better part of ten years. We broke up when my business began to take off. It embarrassed him.”
Now Ro frowned a little. There was no reason he could think of why anyone would be embarrassed by a painter. Unless, “Because you paint nudes?”
“No. My real business, the one that bought this flat, is pornography. I own a website.” Now to see what happened. Some men were titillated; others, revolted.
Ro sat up. This was unexpected. Not only unexpected: something he’d never imagined. “I never thought about an actual person owning a porn site.”
“More common than you might think,” Reggie said dryly. “It started with a few of us being desperate for cash. Literally starving artists. A couple of my friends had made a sex tape. We were having a laugh about it, oh what if we put it online, maybe you could pay the rent by shagging. They both said, well why not? We’re going to shag anyway. So I built a website. It’s called At Your Service. We thought it was clever.” He gave half a shrug. “A few of us did some variously-dirty pictures. I loaded the video, and put it behind a pay wall, and it made money.”
“Was it all amateur videos?” Ro was fascinated. He’d made a sex tape once. Nearly everyone he knew had made at least one. Everybody wanted to see what they looked like when they were fucking.
“At the beginning? Oh yes, of course. I had to get a solicitor onto it straight away, to arrive at some scheme for compensation. It was amazing how many inquiries came in. Oh we’ve made one, what would you pay for it. Videos and pictures. At the outset there was no question of paying a fee up front; I simply hadn’t the money.”
“How did you learn how to make a website?”
“We all learned. Even two dozen years ago, it was clear any artist would need one in order to prosper.”
“All I have is a Facebook page.” Ro had never been that serious about the drag life, though. Maybe he’d felt he didn’t need to be; he had the knife skills. He’d always be able to find a job, if he ever couldn’t stand the restaurant anymore. That thought hit a wall. He’d told his father he was taking a vacation. Told, not asked. He didn’t know if that job would still be there when he went back. It scared him for a second. “Why am I here?” He wasn’t sure if he was asking Reggie, or himself.
Reggie answered indirectly. “Did Mr. Martin show you the selfie he took, when he bought those ripping boots?” Ro almost laughed. He nodded. Reggie said, “He sent it to me. He said, he likes dark-skinned men with English accents. He’d seen your pin-ups.” Ro was giggling. Reggie was utterly charmed. “I thought then that you looked a right darling. Never expected to meet you, of course. Then he was teasing me about coming to L.A. with that painting. He said, I’ll show you my Shakespeare pictures. Well, by the time I flew in he’d done that session with you as Margaret of Anjou. He didn’t tell me who you were.”
“I didn’t look much like Rowena. You guessed?”
Reggie made a sound of assent. “It was the boots.” Ro laughed out loud, a cackle that made Reggie smile. “And then the bugger invited you to that soiree and I’m damned if I know why; he wouldn’t tell me. You and I barely even spoke. But it was like being pushed underwater, submerged in a,” he cast about for words, “a certainty. This strong and unprecedented feeling, that I had to know you somehow. That you were important. That if I didn’t come to know you I’d be regretting it the rest of my life.”
“Unprecedented,” Ro repeated softly. “That means never before.” It was almost a question; he’d only ever heard the word on the news.
“I liked your voice, the way you talk. I like your face. I could tell you liked me.”
A weak word, Reggie thought. Time to be blunt. “I wanted you. I still do. But you being here is not contingent upon serving me in any way. You are my guest. For as long as you care to stay.” Or until your visa runs out, whichever comes first. Reggie didn’t ask himself what he might suggest if ‘as long as you care to’ exceeded the length of stay stamped on that visa.
Ro was processing. Each of those five statements answered a crucial question. “I quit my job at the shop. They would take me back. I told them I had a chance to take a trip, a once-in-a-lifetime trip, and they said I should go.” He was watching Reggie, but the older man’s face gave nothing away. “I told my father I was taking a vacation. He said, you’d better be back in a week. I said, I don’t know when I’ll be back.” He shrugged a little, one shoulder, a tip of the head. “My knives are with a friend, she’ll keep them safe. Rowena is with the rest of the queens. If she doesn’t survive, it doesn’t really matter. I think I’m done with her.”
“Who would you like to be next?”
Like Reggie before, Ro didn’t answer directly. He said, “I’ve never been in love. I never felt safe enough to let go. Is that what you want? To be in love?”
Reggie couldn’t begin to answer that. After a moment, he said, “We have an actor here named Rowan Atkinson. A comedian. The name means several things. It’s the English version of an Irish saint’s name. It means red-headed. It’s also a type of tree, a rather lovely blooming tree.”
“I never did like the name Ronald,” Ro said. “There’s this stupid character, Ronald McDonald. That’s all I heard in school. You know, the McDonald’s hamburgers?” Reggie nodded, with a sort of shudder. “Yeah, they’re awful, but when you can’t afford an Umami Burger you go with what you got. I like that name. Rowan. Maybe I want to be Rowan next.”
“When I paint you, I’ll call you Rowan. May I paint you?”
“Yes,” Ro said softly. He could never have admitted that he was hearing Rowan Galant in his head. Had never thought of changing his name. Had never thought of getting married. Could not imagine why he was thinking of it now. “Is Reggie short for Reginald?”
“It is. I’d much rather my parents had called me Rex. I complained of it in my youth and they said do you really fancy a dog’s name, and I said yes.” Ro huffed out a laugh. Reggie was smiling again. “Rex means king, and Reginald is some mongrel thing that amounts to ruler-counselor. One might make an argument that those are the same thing, but in the one case no argument is needed.”
“It’s much simpler,” Ro agreed gently. Reggie had the distinct impression he was trying not to laugh. “Have you ever felt like a king?”
Reggie snorted. “Not in the least.” He looked across the room at his still-mysterious guest. “I do want to be in love.”
“I do too.”COLLAPSE
This story is set in the real world of 2020 and refers to pandemic/lockdown.