The Force of Destiny, Chapter 1
I don’t bite my fingernails but if I did, they’d be nubs.
It’s been over a year since I signed a contract with a small publisher to release my second novel The Force of Destiny, and I’m still left in the dark as to when it will be published. While I possess more than a kernel of faith, the sensitive artist in me can’t help but be worried…perhaps they decided not to publish my manuscript after all? Maybe they hated the book and are trying to ignore my repeated attempts at contact via email? Could it be that I have a fragile ego, one that is bruised and cowering with the Unknown looming over me?
In the meantime, here’s Chapter 1, unedited by a publisher, raw with nerve endings, and desirous of love. If you like what you read, let me know. And if you don’t? Well, tough titty. In the words of writer Neil Gaiman (Coraline, American Gods), “Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what’s wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”
As for a set-up, let me just say this: If you live in New York and take the subway, I’m sure you can relate…
The following excerpt is copyrighted. © Dario Dalla Lasta 2011-2012
The morning started out like any other day for Adrian Gibbons, hung over or not.
He snored through his alarm, jerking himself awake fifteen minutes later and stumbling over his dog Trip curled at the foot of the tangled bed sheets. He cracked his jaw yawning in the shower. Small patches of toilet paper had to be applied to the shaving cuts on his neck. Having no desire or time to iron a clean shirt, he grabbed a thermal underwear top from the bedroom floor, sniffed it, and covered up the mustiness with a worn grey hoodie paired with grungy jeans and dilapidated sneakers for Trip’s brisk walk outside. Once the dog peed and pooped and was curled up nose-to-butt on the bed, Adrian ran through the cluttered apartment gathering his iPod and a dog-eared paperback into a tote bag for the morning commute.
He was going to be late.
Ignoring the clock over the kitchen sink, he covered his bloodshot eyes with dark sunglasses, placed a newsboy cap over his newly shorn head, grabbed keys and a fistful of change from the nightstand, and loped three blocks toward Bedford Avenue and the L train amongst a bevy of hipsters in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.
A full block passed before he remembered to brush away the bloodied bits clinging to his neck, watching them flutter away in the wind like little crimson moths. He hurried on with long strides, embarrassed.
Uh oh, he thought, I forgot to brush my teeth
So far, the day had begun like every other typical morning. Except that on this day, something extraordinary was about to happen. Adrian Gibbons had no idea he was going to meet his boyfriend from the future and that his entire world would be upended by noon. At that moment, all he knew was that he needed coffee.
In order to quell his headache and absorb the sour taste in his mouth, he detoured one block to the portable breakfast cart on North 6th Street. From ten feet away Adrian noticed Lucita, the rotund woman who ran the joint, placing a large cup of light-and-sweet coffee on the counter in anticipation for when he trudged up. Fumbling with earbuds, he waited his turn in line until he could bend down into the cart’s window opening to pay. Lucita laughed at his appearance; not at the lopsided gap-toothed smile, freckles exploding across his cheeks like millions of faded galaxies, and one dimple winking, but at the lone scrap of toilet tissue stuck to his throat. The proprietress pointed to his neck with a questioning look and smiled broadly when he picked off the piece in disgust. Then bestowing him with a kind “Gracias,” she accepted his $1.25 worth of coins with a shrug. In Adrian’s mind, he was doing her a favor—now she would have change for the five-dollar bills about to land her way.
“Bye!” yelled Adrian, unaware of how loud he was due to the music’s volume in his ears. Backtracking to North 7th Street, he descended the packed stairs of the subway amidst a flurry of graffiti, turnstiles, and boys. Reddened eyes or not, he still examined every male figure crammed onto the train platform since he was a horny creature of habit. Ambling toward his usual spot, he sipped the hot coffee carefully, trying not to scald his mouth. After three swallows, he’d succeeded in burning his tongue and dribbling a line of caramel-colored liquid down his chin and onto the front of his shirt in the shape of a lightning bolt. He wiped his chin with the back of his hand and glowered. Not having a napkin on hand, he yanked the zipper of his hoodie up in a futile attempt to hide the stain, reasoning that no one would be paying attention anyway. Adrian was good at rationalizing such things.
By peering over the tracks and into the dark tunnel, he willed the train’s headlights into being while also sneaking a few side-eyed glances at the men standing around the platform. Adrian recognized a few morning regulars but checked out the new meat closest to him, enjoying the scruffy face and wavy hair, so unlike his own bloodied neck and prickly bristles. Short guys didn’t bother Adrian, although he felt a good head taller than this sloucher with a slight build and studious glasses. The cutie must have sensed someone staring because he looked up from his reading material and straight at Adrian’s chest, eyeballs magnified from behind chunky black rims. Curious, Adrian glanced down and faced the drying coffee bolt. The mark, clearly visible, had morphed into a crooked streak resembling a smear of shit.
Groaning inwardly, Adrian faced the tracks head-on and resolved not to use his peripheral vision any further. For once, the train was pulling in at exactly the right time. Hallelujah, he praised inwardly, jerking the bag higher up on his shoulder and shuffling towards the crowded train. Ducking under the doorway, he steered clear of the wavy-haired guy, who probably thought Adrian had wiped his messy ass with his shirt, and jammed into the writhing sea of tangled arms and annoyed frowns until he found a spot big enough for a toothpick. It would have to do.
Wedging in between a jutting elbow in his clavicle and a supersized Louis Vuitton bag scraping his butt, Adrian thought all was well until his iPod earphones were dislodged during the calamity of finding a spot.
“The next stop is…First Avenue,” the lady robot that lived in the new automated trains stated.
“Stand clear of the closing doors please,” her masculine robot counterpart added cheerfully. Even the disembodied male and female mechanical announcers appeared to be a perfect match. Bing bong went the warning chimes as the doors began to crush the people scrunched together in ridiculous proximity with each other. After a few tries, the doors finally closed and the subway jerked to a start.
Since one arm was holding onto the rail above the seats and the other hand was busy keeping the coffee from sloshing out, Adrian had to leave the ear pieces swinging from his front pocket like some abnormally skinny, low-slung balls. Annoyed, he could faintly hear “Jet Airliner” from The Steve Miller Band hanging between his legs. He wished he was on a plane at that very moment instead of smushed in a rush-hour subway car. He also hoped no one could make out the tinny tune since the song was from the late-1970s and probably not too hip in the scene right now. With a small pout he took a careful sip and, like a true New Yorker, blocked out the temporary unpleasantness by falling into his daily routine of staring at his fellow passengers as they hurtled through the dark tunnel under the East River.
He wasn’t alone. Everyone did it. At least Adrian had the class to do so from behind vintage Ray Bans, which is how he justified such behavior. This ritual was infused with a cornucopia of hot guys to ogle, especially on the Brooklyn to Manhattan L train, that hotbed of hipster realness. And if the passenger had a penis, he was liberally scrutinized. Among the troops of working-class citizens, Adrian picked out the quirky parts of the men he chose to fantasize about that morning. Most everyone had an “It” factor, whether it be the eyes, the face, the stubble, the grittiness, the muscles, the shoes, the hair, the swagger, the straightness, the swarthiness or almost anything that caused one to stand out in an individualized way. And while Adrian always dreamed of spotting a manly bulge in the crotch region, he was seldom lucky enough to pick one out in the mass of middles.
Today’s menu consisted of sleepy brown eyes cradled by heavy eyebrows under a New York Yankees cap; a tousled bed of hair on a painfully thin fashionista; an impressive beard being scratched by a dirty fingernail holding onto a skateboard; facial hair trimmed as precise as cut-outs above a crisp business suit; hair slicked back into a ‘50s-esque ducktail; stiff, dark blue jeans holding in a deliciously round rump; young, pillowed lips being licked with a covert slip of the tongue; hairy ankles exhibited beneath rolled-up skinny jeans; and faded tattoos covering the scabby forearms of a been-there, done-that rocker.
Like every other day, a smorgasbord.
And like every other day, Adrian got lost in his imagination, daydreaming about what kind of underwear these men wore—boxers or briefs or, gasp, commando? Were they a solid color or a tongue-in-cheek print? Perhaps some were frayed and lightly stained yellow while others were brand-new and still smelling of the plastic package. From there, he fantasized about what their cocks looked and tasted like, if they were cut or uncut, hairy or shaved, plump or noodle-like. Adrian pictured how the men jerked off those imagined penises and wondered whether they preferred long and languid pulls on their hard-ons or fast, blurry rubs. The possibilities were endless, the combinations never-ending. If his mind was alert and not marinated in alcohol, Adrian also had time to move on to more generalities such as what their armpits smelled of, how they kissed, what they enjoyed doing in bed, and the simple physicality of actually speaking to one of them, one of these beautifully diverse mortals, these shining examples of every nuance of masculinity, these strangers on public transportation in a city of eight million people.
Ensuing horniness was a usual by-product of such thoughts, even when Adrian was under the weather. He likened the process to his very own Hangover Helper, not to be confused with Hamburger Helper as this existed without that weird white-gloved hand from the television commercials. The recipe was thus: blood rushed from his pounding skull to his thickening dick, relieving the pressure from one head while transferring it to another. Even Julia Child herself could classify it as being as miraculous as a fluffed soufflé.
His daily routine wasn’t serious. He never thought about a future with any of these males he perused but longed only for a shy smile in return, a mutual glance, perhaps a feeling—even fleeting—that somebody knew him, really knew who he was and what he liked and then he was on to the next, only wanting to live in that moment and that moment only. On his 29th birthday in April, however, the wish he made as he blew out the lone candle on a red velvet cupcake from Magnolia Bakery was to find a boyfriend before turning thirty. He didn’t tell his BFFs Elliot or Destiny his wish, of course, knowing that would bring bad luck. At the rate he was going though, April would come again too quickly without his wish coming true. He had less than six months.
But on this day—a day that started out like any other—during that typical morning rush hour, an invisible breath from the future blew down Adrian’s neck, fanning the miniscule hairs about like tentacles on a sea anemone. He shuddered and looked up.
There he was. A dark-haired man, eyes closed, leaning against the nearest subway door, rocking slightly with the train’s movements. Ah, Adrian contemplated, if only love at first sight was more than a lame Hallmark Channel movie. At that very instant, in that one second of all the minutes that added up to the present moment in time, he wanted to believe in it. For in that very first sighting, the closeted romantic imprisoned in Adrian’s heart peered out from behind his ventricle cage, sighed, and then screamed “Boyfriend material!”
There was something about this guy with his perfect black hair swept over to one side, something essentially masculine yet exceeding more than an “It” Factor, something enticing irrespective of his exhausted appearance. For unlike Adrian’s morning prep, the guy hadn’t seen a razor in days and his shuttered eyes exposed sockets that were sunken and smudged with purple as though he’d had a late night too. An instant bond was formed in Adrian’s mind, a sense of kinship in knowing he wasn’t alone in the slightly haggard, not-enough-sleep look. He instantly sensed his body relaxing, his stomach settling, and the taste in his mouth sweetening. The man was delectable, and not just for the sexy roughness of surviving a late night. There had to be an interesting back story to this guy, Adrian was sure of it. So behind his sunglasses, hidden from God and man, he made one up.
The far-reaching eyelashes sweeping the pallid cheeks were dark and full, appearing permanently ringed with mascara and black eyeliner. A history unfolded as Adrian pictured a rebellious teenager dancing in an underage goth club to Bauhaus’ formidable “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” experimenting with eye makeup in the girls’ bathroom with his best friend applying the desired effect with her chubby fingers. Adrian had always adored goth boys with their pent-up, adolescent androgyny. The heady smell of incense and clove cigarettes wafted by while he chanted lyrics in his mind, “Undead, undead, undead,” picturing the two of them dancing in a murky bar, giggling into cups of cheap cabernet sauvignon, sneaking chaste kisses, promising to dye each other’s hair, grinding their bony hips together and singing along to Peter Murphy’s deep, anguished voice.
From those images, an erection began to sprout. And at just that moment, the stranger opened his eyes and smiled at Adrian with a knowing expression that concluded he was the cause of the burgeoning hardness.
Surprised at having been discovered, Adrian flinched and averted his gaze, his face trying to mold into a mask of cool disinterest like Danny Zuko in “Grease” although he had a sick feeling he more closely resembled the proverbial deer caught in the headlights. Pulling focus to his feet, he pretended to be concerned about his Adidas turning a turd-like brown from the slush of a recent snowstorm. But he couldn’t deny the gnawing attraction nibbling at his loins and, after a beat, his eyes shifted back in direct disregard of what Danny Zuko would do.
The man’s attention was focused elsewhere, allowing Adrian to take a breath and exhale. He peered closer. Even through his sunglasses, Adrian noted that the black lashes outlined eyes of an exceptional hazel color, one that Crayola had tried but failed to replicate. A green of dewy grass and a warm, velvety brown sparkled in tandem underneath the high intensity glare of the train’s lights, banishing the darkness of Bauhaus from Adrian’s internal jukebox and flipping the record over into “Lily’s Eyes” from the musical “The Secret Garden.” A yearning Mandy Patinkin belted in his head, “Her eyes! She has my Lily’s hazel eyes!”
Those same eyes shifted back to Adrian, accompanied by a slight smirk which curved through his stubbly face as if he’d heard Adrian singing that show tune out loud.
Looking back down at his feet again, Adrian cussed himself out for being a dork and probably an obvious theater queen, picturing the dude reading his lips as he silently sang along in a pale imitation of Mandy Patinkin. Of all people, Adrian knew from firsthand experience what community theater and being a drama geek in college out West could do to a young, star-struck boy from a small, forgotten state like Delaware. Truth be told, the results weren’t always cool.
Chagrined that a studly stranger might discover he was into show tunes, Adrian repositioned his dangling arm on the bar above the seats, took an almost violent swig of the cooling coffee, and turned his body a bit so that he wasn’t facing the door anymore. As was standard practice on the morning commute with his daily staring routine, the hardness below was making itself known, and he was positive that the prim Asian lady sitting directly in front of him and his expanding crotch was not amused. A quick glance at her proved she wasn’t paying him any mind, yet it also showed that his trouser snake was coiled heavily in the worn pouch of his Levi’s, poised to let loose and strike at the next charmer. It appeared to be quite spring-like on this chilly Fall morning.
Rolling his eyes, he tried to will his stiffy down by pulling words from his alphabetical “List of Personal Atrocities,” starting this morning with the letter “c”—cabbage, catheters, Catholicism, cavities, clowns, collared greens, Crystal Light—until the hardness deflated. Ever since puberty, Adrian had developed what could only be described as an overactive boner. The doctor had advised him since junior high school that the constant, obvious, and potentially embarrassing problem would fade away as he got older. That medical advice was inaccurate. Nothing worked until Adrian developed the List.
In high school, the difficult task of sitting behind T.J. Hayfield in civics class had become a bone of contention, so to speak. Adrian daydreamed about twirling the baseball pitcher’s chestnut curls in his fingers and running them up and down the nape of that sunburned neck before him, amongst other things. The procession of painful and humiliating erections day in and day out had been harmful in several ways; not only did his grades slip in class, but he had a constant state of blue balls. Something had to be done. So Adrian began writing lists in class, things that he disliked or even hated, subjects that would distract him from T.J.’s neck or tight baseball uniform, anything to transport himself from his fantasies and ceaseless woodies. The tactic began to work. Over time, the “List of Personal Atrocities,” as he began to call it, became alphabetized and expanded as his vocabulary and tastes grew and changed, but it would forever be a meticulous and constantly evolving work in progress.
With that issue under control due to the List, he treated himself to another peek at the guy against the subway door. Complimenting the startling hue of his eyes, the man’s hair was boot-black and severely parted down the left side, cleaving a neat white line and bestowing a militant bearing so unlike those glittery, fanciful eyes. When those flecked marble orbs rolled his way again, Adrian sensed his face burning, scalp tingling, and constellation of freckles sizzling. Oh dear God, he’s looking again. Why is he looking at me? Nobody ever stared back at him. At least, not more than one time and not with such intensity.
Mortified in that turned-on kind of way, Adrian forced his blinking eyes away and surveyed the top of the same lady’s hairdo positioned in front of his midsection. Suddenly not feeling so well again, his queasy stomach lurched when he discerned a dusting of white flakes swirled throughout her dark helmet of hair. He decided to add the word “dandruff” to the “List of Personal Atrocities” under the letter “d.”
The List was working its magic; his prick had shrunk down to normalcy, but today this saddened him. Although he had turned away in embarrassment before, now he wanted the man with jet-black hair to see what he was working with down there. More than that, however, he realized with a start that he wanted to actually meet the man, to talk to him, to make a real and not fantasized connection at the very least. A monumental wave rose up inside him, a conflicting tide of words and nerves that crested with a touch of vomit. He swallowed everything down forcefully, even a simple greeting.
The train emerged from underneath the river onto the crowded island and began slowing down for the First Avenue stop.
“This is…First Avenue,” the automated female voice announced in a friendly, informative tone. When the doors slid open, he opened his mouth to speak but the man stepped off the train amidst a crush of people with one last glance in Adrian’s direction.
“The next stop is…Third Avenue,” the train instructed her passengers, sounding much more chipper about it than Adrian felt.
“Stand clear of the closing doors please.” Bing bong.
Pissed off, Adrian berated himself for not taking his sunglasses off and making naked eye contact, not encouraging the grown-up goth with something as small as a return smile, not saying one single solitary word. In essence, not doing diddly-squat. After closing his hanging mouth, Adrian bent down to peek out the window with the hope of catching one last sight of the guy (and, for an added bonus, his butt). All he got for his effort was an aggravated harrumph from the Dandruff Lady. He moaned his regret but when he straightened up, he had secured a bit of personal space due to the exiting travelers. Moving the coffee cup to the hand resting on the rail, he grabbed the swinging headphones from between his legs, plugged them back in where only he could hear the next song, and attempted to calm his rapid heartbeat to the next song playing on “Shuffle” mode. He almost laughed—currently blasting his eardrums to Kingdom Come was “A Piece of Sky,” the last number from the Yentl soundtrack. Oh Barbra, he mused, with all there is, why should I settle for just a piece of sky?
Through Barbra’s expressive emoting, Third Avenue came and went. Soon enough, Adrian heard the informative train robot announce, “This is 14th Street, Union Square. Transfer is available to the 4, 5, 6, N, Q, and R trains.” Exiting with a mob, Adrian was swept up the stairs to the yellow N/Q/R line uptown. The Q express train arrived first which Adrian decided to hop on. Although he wouldn’t be allowed to exit at his regular local stop on 49th Street and Seventh Avenue, he thought it might be a good idea to take a brisk walk through Times Square, up eight blocks and over two avenues. That ought to clear his head before work and he would only be a few minutes later than usual.
The trip was uneventful since no cute boys were riding the rails, only stressed-out lawyers and financiers in fancy suits and overcoats, a stinky swami, and a foreign tourist with giant testicles stretching nylon track pants. While Adrian was normally a connoisseur of big balls, he wasn’t in the mood for an older Slavic with acne scars and a subway map. Bored with the lack of eye candy, he pulled out a used paperback copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five” from his tote bag and immersed himself in the story of time-traveling protagonist Billy Pilgrim.
By the time 42nd Street rolled around, Adrian was zoned out to a live recording on his iPod of “O Fortuna,” the most notable movement from Orff’s haunting Carmina Burana. The book had been briefly forgotten by the overwhelming auditory overload. Although the piece was performed by the normally chipper New York City Gay Men’s Chorus, the song was super creepy and reminded Adrian of peeing in his pants while watching “The Omen” on TV one summer night with a cruel babysitter. Transported to a different time and place by the ominous chanting in Latin about fortune, he dropped the book in his bag and made his way out of the train car behind a woman in a blazer and skirt wearing sparkly space-age trainers, barely glancing up at a dark, hunky piece of ass leaning against one of those little silver-colored enclosed newsstands in the subway that sells every magazine on Earth next to bright boxes of candy.
The hot piece of ass raised a hand in greeting, stopping Adrian in his tracks and freaking him out enough to almost piss his pants in the here and now. The nearly empty coffee cup teetered in a hand that had as much feeling as an appendage from Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. Suddenly, he wasn’t zoned out any more.
There he was, grinning like a devil, arms folded in smug satisfaction. That dark-haired stranger from the train, the very same one who conjured up Adrian’s hard-on, was standing there.