From The Flight of a Thousand Cranes: An Unedited Excerpt
The bookstore teemed with activity. William stared around the store, barely managing to keep his jaw from visibly dropping open. Same sex couples walked around hand in hand. A man was reading from aloud to what could only be his partner or lover judging from the intimate way they stood pressed against one another. The section they stood in was labeled Erotica. A tendril of fire snaked down from the flower in William’s chest to curl into his groin. He began to move forward, one step at a time, lured by the way the slightly taller man curved into his slightly shorter and far stockier partner.
“I love Johnny Miles’s stuff. I just wish he’d write a whole book.” The taller man snuggled into his partner as he spoke, his eyes drifting over to land on William. William swallowed rapidly, averting his eyes and reaching blindly for the first thing in front of him. A magazine fell into his hand, the name Blueboy blazoned across the front. William flicked it open and nearly swallowed his tongue. Beautiful men stared out from the pages of the magazine, posed in what could only be called provocative ways. The fire in his belly moved lower. He hastily put the magazine back on the shelf and hurried to a safer section of the store.
After poking around for a bit, feeling hopelessly lost, he plucked up the courage to approach one of the clerks and ask for some guidance. With heavily guided assistance, he picked out three likely looking books, the first two of which were Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin, and The Front Runner by Patricia Neil Warren, both romantic and touted by the clerk as must read works of fiction. The third book came about in response to his question as to whether the store had anything uplifting to read about someone with cancer. The clerk looked at him strangely when he asked, but William did not explain. He felt he had bared he soul to strangers as many times today as was possible. Something of what he thought must have shown in his eyes, for the rotund clerk dropped the look and took him, strangely, to the children’s section.
Once there she handed him a book called Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, by Eleanor Coerr. Seeing the little Japanese girl depicted on the cover shook William, but when he tried to hand the book back to the clerk, somehow his fingers refused to release it. He carried the books to the front of the store, and got in line to pay certain he would be able to set the book down before he left, or at least hand it to the clerk and tell them he was not interested.
Finishing up at the checkout counter, William decided to see about getting a coffee. Walking toward the front of the store with a bag in hand containing not one, but two actual gay love stories, William felt easier in his skin. He belonged now, just as surely as the couple he’d seen upon entering the store.
He decided to wait out front for a bit, to see if Jon would come back. It seemed far-fetched… but really what reason could the man have had for promising to come back unless he really meant it? Finding a low wall to sit on, he settled in and deliberated which book to choose. Flipping to the end of The Front Runner showed that one of the main characters died. William dropped the book back into the bag as though it burned his hands.
This weekend was all about life. He had checked the ending of the other novel while he was browsing. It was confusing, but no one seemed to be dead or dying, so he decided that one would do to while away a bit of time. William reached into the bag, but the book that came to his hands was not the intriguing tale of the zany characters residing on Barbary Lane the clerk had told him of. Instead the slim volume detailing the path of a little girl’s hope clung to the tips of his fingers as though determined he should read it right then. A warm breeze blew past, and for just a second William could swear he smelled the warm sage and earth scent of his Nana.
William shrugged. He had nothing better to do and a whole weekend to fill. He opened the book and began to read what the back cover touted as, “Sadako’s inspiring story”. He could use a little inspiration right about now.
A half an hour later, when a heavy shadow fell across his face and the closed book in his lap, William had come up with a perfect plan. He tilted his head back, wondering who could possibly—“Jon!”
His former taxi driver fell back half a step, his face creasing into what William was beginning to think was a characteristic wide white smile. “That’s a fine greeting. I should always have handsome young men calling out to me so enthusiastically. My reputation would be set as the man to be seen with.” As Jon spoke, the corners of his eyes crinkled up until the big man’s eyes seemed to be smiling the very own smiles separate from his mouth.
William jumped to his feet. “Jon, do you know where I can get a tattoo?”
Jon’s brow rippled with surprise. “A tattoo?”
William opened his mouth, words tumbling over one another to escape the confines of his throat. “I read this book and it reminded me of a story my Nana told me a long time ago and I thought I surely don’t have the time to fold a thousand cranes, not even if I had help, and then I remembered I always wanted a tattoo so I thought—”
Jon’s frown fell away, and a chuckle burst out of him. “Hold on, hold on. I think this is going to take a bit of explaining. Why don’t we go get something to eat? You can spend more than a moment to explain what has you so tickled you’re practically dancing with excitement.” Jon paused for a moment, and then continued with some trepidation in his tone. “Please tell me you’re not always like this.”
William took his turn at bursting into surprised laughter. “No, no. I am very quiet usually. I—today has been most unusual. I’d like to eat something. That sounds like a very good idea.” He paused. “I didn’t know if you would come back.”
Jon nodded. “I know. It’s why I hurried.”
William wished fiercely in that moment that his Nana could have met Jon. They would have liked one another, and there was something in Jon… something hurt and sorrowful that William was sure he would not have time to reach, and he wanted very badly to have time to be kind to someone like Jon who had taken the time to see a stranger with what Nana called the Aphrodite Gaze. She told William that if he could look out at the world with the eyes of love, he would never fail to find beauty.
With his back to the street, Jon turned toward the right, and William followed him. “Do you like seafood, William? There’s a place up here that makes soft-shell crab that could tempt a man to sell his mother for.” As he spoke, he placed one of his broad palms on William’s shoulder, giving a gentle squeeze. William eased then, all the places strung tight within him simply loosening. He tilted his head back and back again to look up into Jon’s face. “I’ve never had crab. I like fish though, if that helps.”
Jon’s mouth flapped open and shut with no discernible words coming out. He stopped and turned to fully face William. “Never? There must be a law somewhere. Come on, William. Today is a good day to have your first taste of soft-shell, and I can’t think of a better place to do so than D.C.”