I know you guys like to read a little free Delacroix fiction once in a while. It’s been months since I posted a free piece, so today I’m posting the first installment of my short story, Me and Shea.
Me and Shea originally appeared in an Alyson Books anthology titled Best Gay Love Stories 2009. I hope you’ll enjoy it.
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Me and Shea, copyright Martin Delacroix 2009
When I met Shea I’d given up on love, but he changed that.
Here’s how it happened:
I had worked a long day, installing roof sheathing with a nail gun. In August it’s hot in central Florida, especially when you’re working outdoors, perched on trusses under a broiling sun. I pulled into my driveway with a twelve-pack of beer resting on the seat of my pickup, my skin sweaty and caked with sawdust.
I lived in a duplex: a building with two apartments sharing a common wall. The unit adjoining mine had been vacant for a few months, but now the “For Rent” sign was gone from the front yard. Next door, a Volkswagen van with a peace-sign sticker on its rear window sat on the driveway. The carport was full of cardboard boxes, most of them empty and scattered about. A fiberglass surfboard leaned against a wall.
I went over and knocked.
This guy, nineteen or twenty, slender and a bit shorter than me, answered the door. His brown hair was arranged in Rasta braids; they grew to his shoulders. He wore nothing but boardshorts. A leather bracelet circled his ankle and his skin was deeply tanned.
He nodded, green eyes staring into mine. Stubble dusted his chin and jaw.
I jerked a thumb. “I’m Alex; I live next door.”
He told me his name was Shea and we shook hands. His voice had a teenager’s rasp.
I hoisted the twelve-pack. “Care for one?”
“Thanks, but I don’t drink alcohol.”
I squinted. A surfer who doesn’t like beer?
He must have noticed my expression. “If I want to get high, I smoke weed (youthspeak for marijuana). Hangovers hurt my performance.”
He pointed to his board. “On the waves.”
I glanced at his upper body. His chest was defined, his shoulder muscles bulged and his belly was flat — a competition surfer’s physique. Of course, I thought. When a Florida kid decides he’ll make a living shredding waves, he comes to Brevard County to train at its many breaks: The Pier, Sebastian Inlet, Jetty Park, RCs and Second Light.
When I asked if he were in school, he nodded. “I start community college next week.”
Hours later, when I watched TV, Shea knocked on my door. He clutched a manual can opener like my grandma owned when I was little. He asked, “Do you know how to operate this?”
I stifled a grin and followed him to his apartment. A can of ravioli, another of green peas, sat upon his kitchen counter. I demonstrated with the former, showing Shane how to position the opener’s cutting blade on the lip of the can, how to squeeze the two handles and twist the knob. The device was ornery, so it took me a while to do the job.
While Shea struggled with the peas, I looked around. His place was just like mine: terrazzo floor, block walls, maple kitchen cabinets and Formica counter tops. In the living area were a bean bag chair, a portable TV atop a crate, and shelving constructed from plywood and concrete blocks. No drapes or blinds, nothing hung on the walls. A laptop computer, a drinking glass, and a stack of surfing magazines rested upon a card table, one with two folding chairs facing it.
Shea grimaced while he battled the can of peas. “You live alone?”
I nodded. “My wife and I split a few years ago.”
He wrenched his lips. “That happens a lot, doesn’t it?”
“Divorce. Love doesn’t last between people.”
I didn’t respond.
After succeeding with the opener, Shea dumped the peas into one saucepan, the ravioli into another. He placed both on stove burners, then set the temperature dials on “high”. Leaning against his refrigerator, he crossed his arms and looked at me.
“You ever surf?”
“In high school, but not since. I work six-day weeks. By Sunday I’m too tired for paddling.”
Shea asked about my job.
“I do carpentry — framing mostly. A little trim work as well.”
“How old are you?”
I told him I was twenty-four.
His gaze slid over me like a clothes iron pressing a shirt. “You’ve got a nice build — strong shoulders. I’ll bet you’d do fine on the water.”
His remark embarrassed me and I looked at my feet.
“How come you’re blushing?” Shea said.
I glanced up. “I’m not used to getting compliments.”
He shrugged and didn’t say anything.
A hissing sound came from the stove. The odor of singed pasta scented the kitchen. Burners beneath Shea’s saucepans glowed bright orange and his peas were boiling over. He lurched across the room, grabbing the pans by their handles, only to drop them with a clatter and a curse. He flapped his hands, wincing, while I used a dishtowel as a hot pad, transporting his food to coils not in use.
After lowering his temperature dials to from “high” to “simmer”, I asked Shea if he’d hurt himself.
He glanced into his palms. “A little, yeah.”
I kept an aloe plant in my kitchen. I went next door and broke off a leaf, brought it to Shea. While he squeezed juice onto his fingers, I told him, “Invest in a potholder. And don’t heat food on ‘high’; you’ll only scorch it.”
He nodded, giving me a shy smile. “It’s my first time keeping house.”
“Your mom didn’t teach you how to cook?”
He scowled and shook his head. “She left when I was seven.”
“I’m sorry, I . . . .”
He said it was OK. Then he dropped his gaze and rubbed his belly. I sensed he felt ashamed by his mother’s absence from his life.
“Look,” I said, “I’m no whiz in the kitchen but I know a few things. If you have questions — about cooking or anything else — just ask.”
He looked at me and smiled. Light from the ceiling fixture reflected in his teeth.
“Thanks, Alex. I’ll do that.”
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Okay, guys: that’s the first installment. I’ll post another tomorrow. Have a nice Friday evening, everyone.