Excerpt

Pawn Takes Rook: Conventional Love

I DON’T know if you ever knew this, but you can tell a Daggers and Degradation gaming session is going totally downhill when the game master’s nana won’t stop offering you fresh-baked cookies while your party is trying to take down a level eighty Tiamat.

“Oh, Hogarth, sweetie, just one? They have coconut flakes in them. Good for fiber,” Chad’s grandmother said, and pushed the tray toward me.

My nose wrinkled in that way that suggested it wanted to crawl up into my cerebellum to hide from the foul tropical scent. “N-no thanks, Miss Kerbopple,” I said, shaking the sparkling ten-sided dice in my hand. “I’m kind of allergic,” I managed to get out before letting loose an embarrassingly gooey sneeze across the hex map, blowing over Chad’s expertly crafted origami wizards and warlocks in the process. The gaming group violently recoiled from the table, hissing at the onslaught of germs.

Jackson whipped out the Wet Wipes he always has on hand and began the meticulous process of scrubbing his hands free of parasites. El Jefe, as they called him—I didn’t know his real name—took that as his cue to rummage through the makeshift kitchenette in Chad’s suite.

Let’s be honest. Chad’s suite was a basement. His grandmother’s basement. I was role-playing with a group of grown men in the game master’s bedroom. And said game master, said grown man, lived in his grandmother’s basement. I had found them online on one of those sketchy social media sites. Now I’m kinda doubting it was a good idea. What is my life? What have I become?

I tapped my finger to my smartphone, willing my brainwaves to send a text to my supernormal, super sexy, superhero boyfriend. I composed the message: Having a good time with your friends? and appended a perfectly chipper no-nothing-is-wrong-why-would-you-ask smiley face. And a heart. I added on the heart for extra effect.

“Where are the Cheez Doodles?” El Jefe called out from across the room like he was calling over a stadium of thousands.

Just me and my buddy Mister Five Finger Discount, Rook texted me back. We’ll see how eager he is about slashing prices after I break his fingers.

“Can I have a Panther Piss?” El Jefe bellowed and rummaged through Chad’s banged up minifridge.

I wilted in my seat. It’s awkward being the plus one to a badass superhero when the way he unwinds is saving the day and I unwind by indulging in things I should have given up the moment I got my braces off at fifteen. I looked over the expanse of the rickety card table and watched Chad fold new origami wizards and warlocks. He glanced at me in a way that did not convey that everything’s kosher. Lucky for me, Miss Kerbopple waddled up the stairs.

“Your grandma’s really nice,” I offered Chad, trying to make conversation for the sake of filling up the stupidly awkward silence in my head.

“Can’t wait till I get a place of my own,” Chad growled, then dragged a sheet of notebook paper across his teeth, making a sharp crease. “Where me and my bo—er—” He halted his speech, turning as red as my Grandpa Dawson’s radish truck. “Girlfriend can fuck in peace.”

“Woohoo!” El Jefe hollered, pumping his fist. “Bet she sucks like a Hoover!” Embarrassingly enough, El Jefe had to demonstrate the universal gesture of giving head, complete with his tongue poked into the meat of his cheek.

“Y-yeah,” Chad said, and I noted he found his origami infinitely more fascinating.

“Is this the girl from Australia?” Jackson asked. His lips curled into a wicked sickle grin. “You know Chad, the girl has to actually, you know, be real.”

Chad crushed his meticulous work on the paper wizard and grew deathly quiet.

I quickly took stock of the scenario, scanning my new questionable friends. All three of them were some level of in the closet. El Jefe, I think his type was simply as long as it had a pulse. Jackson’s type was the more layers of latex the better, if his S&M PVC-clad Drow character with every possible body part pierced was any indication. Chad, I had a clue that he was about to turn the knob on the closet. But he seemed the type who would only turn the knob after he tested out the merchandise and decided if it was his thing. My Nana told me stories about how my mother knew I was pretty much into guys from the moment of conception. She blamed all the show tunes she listened to when she was pregnant with me. I came out wailing the heart-stopping ode of “I Dreamed a Dream”.

“This one’s from Alaska,” Chad said flatly, and he resumed folding, working on a new wizard.

“Oh! Alaska!” Jackson said in that way I knew all too well.

“Got pics?” El Jefe asked, shoving his hand into the crinkling plastic of the Cheez Doodles. “She better have big tits!”

“No!” Chad snapped. “We believe in romance, you ass monkeys.”

“Good on you,” I helpfully interjected. At least I was going to be the beacon of light in the dark of night. “It’s good that you take it slow.” I snorted at my own situation. “My method of taking it slow with Rook was zero to ninety in three seconds.”

Jackson clapped his hands around a Wet Wipe. “Hogarth gets more head than you do, and he’s a card-carrying gay guy.”

I pointed a finger. “Yes. And Melissa Etheridge gave me a toaster oven when I came out,” I said, rolling my eyes. I glared upon El Jefe and Jackson. “And if you don’t watch your fucking mouth about that crap, need I remind you my boyfriend will take great pride in dismantling you in reverse alphabetical order,” I added, gritting my teeth.

Jackson held up his hands in surrender. “I didn’t say nothin’.”

“I gotta wonder,” El Jefe said, lumbering over to me in his gargantuan brutish way. “What does Memphis goddamn Rook see in a guy like you?”

Oh, you would have loved it. I knew I had the power. They were simply terrified I’d get my man-loving cooties all over them. Here would come the endless questions from pervy closeted gamers of what sex between Rook and I was like. Well for starters, I was actually getting some. And secondly, it’ll rattle your bones back from the dead, but they didn’t need to know about that.

I pushed my glasses up on my nose and crossed my arms. “I’m actually quite the catch if you ask him,” I said, beaming with pride.

“How did you meet?” Chad asked, giving me that shy, hidden, hopeful glance.

I smiled at him. Oh yeah, Chad. I knew. Come with me, baby. I’ll take you to the land of the Weather Girls. It’s raining men, hallelujah.

“Okay,” I said, clapping my hands, then spreading them wide. “So there I was. About to totally get mugged, and Rook just waltzed on in and did what Rook does best.”

“Which is?” Jackson asked, arching a brow.

“Allow me,” I said, fetching a no-longer-worthy-sneezed-on wizard off the floor. After setting him up on the hex map, I took a moment to carefully tip his pointy cap at a jaunty angle. I stood, gesturing to the paper character. “Exhibit A.”

They nodded once.

I snapped my fist back and brought it crashing down onto the tiny paper wizard, crushing him into a wad of nothing. El Jefe staggered back at the commotion.

“Put them on the fast track to dentures before thirty,” I said happily and took my seat.

They nodded once again.

I continued. “But here’s where it gets weird.”

“He wasn’t gay yet?” Jackson asked, and I almost snarfed Panther Piss up my nose.

“He’s always been gay. Always,” I said, and Chad watched me with a silent question. “Always,” I repeated as if I could drill it into their brains. “So there he was, and there I was, just two ships passing in the night. Only it was clear to me he was pretty down on his luck. The Power Alliance had kicked him out because of a mission gone horribly south. It was my brilliant idea to get him cleaned up, restore his rep, and get him reinstated and score myself a place in the roster.”

“And did you?” El Jefe asked, his eyes bright and eager.

“Well, no…,” I said, running my tongue over my teeth.

“Hah!” Jackson said, pointing an accusing finger.

“That’s not the weird part,” I said as my patience began to wear thin. It was horribly infantile but I got my smidge of revenge by licking my index finger before casually reaching out and dragging my fingertip across the back of Jackson’s germless hand. Jackson flinched and immediately riffled for more Wet Wipes. “The weird part is, he and I are part of a super soldier program that predates the CIA, only a generation apart. He’s from the first gen—you know—back when things supposedly ran on steam, horse, and buggy. I’m second gen. All snazzy and jazzed up for the new millennium.” I paused for a moment when I noticed I lost them. “You know. Like the difference between an Atari and a Playstation.”

“Say what?” El Jefe asked with his mouth full of Cheez Doodles.

“I’ve heard of it,” Chad said, and I raised a curious brow. Oh really now, my newly gay grasshoppa? “Checkmate, right?” he asked me, and I nodded. “Two sets of eight pawns, two rooks, two knights, two bishops, one queen, and one king. Each soldier is given the designation of red or black.”

“Correctomundo,” I said, lacing my fingers behind my head.

“So you guys were like… genetically coded to be mortal enemies or something?” Jackson asked.

“The red and black soldiers will stop at nothing to kill one another in the service of their designated king,” Chad added. My goodness, my new gay BFF was a wellspring of knowledge.

“Rook is designated as a red rook, for obviously apparent reasons,” I said. “I’m a black pawn.”

“And you’re knockin’ boots?” El Jefe piped up, and I about fell over. Chad shot him a dirty glare.

“If by knockin’ boots, you mean in a relationship, then yes,” I said.

“You should bring him by sometime,” Chad said, setting his newly folded paper wizard on the table. “I’d love to meet him.”

I shrank in my seat a little. “He doesn’t really get the whole gaming thing,” I said, trying to keep the uncertainty in my voice in check. “He says we need friends outside of each other.”

You’d think I had dumped an ocean’s worth of ice water into the room with how all three of them responded with a unified gasp of “Ooooooooh….”

“What?” I asked. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Chad just shook his head at me.

“I’ve seen enough movies to know what that means,” Jackson said, scratching his scruffy chin. “He’s looking to stick his dipstick in another tank.”

I knew I was blushing before everyone busted out laughing and pointed. I turned up my nose. I would rise above it. Look at me. Rising above it. Totally rising. Fucking louses of Cro-Magnons. These are my new friends? What has my life become?

“Jackson,” I said firmly. “Life isn’t an anime.”

“Yeah, Jackson,” El Jefe said with a chuckle. “There’s no tentacle monsters lurking in the shadows to defile schoolgirls.”

Chad, on the other hand, was my beacon of reason in this pit of depravity. I felt the connection between us. He wasn’t like Jackson or El Jefe. He watched me, his green eyes flickering in the florescent light in just such a way. If our lives had crossed sooner, I might have gone for a guy like him. Moody, brooding, that cocky asymmetrical haircut brushed over one eye. His love of angry-chick rock. Okay. Maybe not the love of angry-chick rock.

Chad was all hard lines from a life of being forced to eat his grandma’s cooking and deftly hiding it in his napkin or sneaking it to the dog. We had a lot in common. Instead of being raised by the system, we were raised by our grandparents. I never knew what had happened to my parents. I didn’t really remember them. They were just random people in photographs Grandpa Dawson and Nana would point to. They seemed happy in the pictures. So there was that. At least Chad still had his grandma around.

Chad was beautiful in the way that Rook was devastatingly handsome. It’s like a religious experience standing next to them because you can’t help but gasp, ah, my god!

And there I went. Perving on a guy I sort of knew because my gaydar needle tipped into the It’s Good! range.

“I don’t know, Hogarth,” Chad said, crushing my ever so lovely and fluffy fantasy world. “I mean, he’s Memphis Rook.”

I nodded, beckoning for Chad to continue. “That he is.”

“Love-’em-and-leave-’em Memphis Rook,” Chad said, and ice shot into my heart. “His conquests are legendary. He got more play than Captain Chivalry.”

I scoffed. “Oh, believe you me. Captain Chivalry got plenty of play.”

Chad arched a brow. Something changed in his demeanor. He was almost accusatory. “Chivalry was married to Miss Vaginamancy.”

“Chivalry’s gay,” I spat.

“What?” the three of them gasped.

“Is everyone fucking gay in the Power Alliance?” Jackson croaked.

El Jefe gave him a full-fisted noogie. “There’s hope for you yet, Jackieboy.”

“How do you know?” Jackson asked. “Like how do you… know?” he prodded in that wink, wink, nudge, nudge way. They were like babies of gaydom. It was actually pretty endearing.

“We dated,” I stated as a complete sentence.

“Did you…?” El Jefe asked, wetting his lips in an awkwardly, totally unappealingly whorish way on his fish mouth.

“Did I fuck his brains out?” I asked, glaring at El Jefe. “No shit, Sherlock.” Okay. These questions about who I’m boinking were as interesting as watching flies fuck, I gotta say. “And no, I can see you guys thinking it—Chivalry, Rook, and I never had a threesome. We dated at two entirely different times.”

I watched El Jefe’s fleshy maw clap shut. Uh-huh. Thought that question was coming.

In a marvelous maneuver of ADD, I brought the topic back to the beginning. “No. Rook is not getting a case of the wandering eye. I’d know,” I said. Woohoo! Circular logic for the win!

Chad nodded once. What the hell is with these guys nodding once? It’s like I’m in a real-life anime or something, with dramatic meaningful gestures.

“If you say so,” he said in an annoying way that suggested he knew something I didn’t.

“Rook’s not a cheater,” I said.

“Uh-huh,” Chad said again and considered his buzzing phone.

“Rook’s not a cheater,” I hissed.

“Have you asked him?” Jackson asked helpfully, at the most unhelpful moment.

“Well, no,” I said, trying not to frown.

“Do you know any of his history?” El Jefe asked, finally getting a clue and being serious for a change.

“Well, no,” I said and crossed my arms. I glanced across the table as Chad eagerly sent a furious stream of texts. “What is it?”

Chad beamed as bright as my Uncle Spike in Needles on far too much spiked eggnog. “She wants to meet at Tolkicon!” he squealed, more high-pitched than a man five years older than me should. “She’s flying in from Arkansas this weekend to be there!”

“Arkansas?” El Jefe asked.

“I thought she lived in Alaska?” Jackson prodded.

“The town of Arkansas in Alaska,” Chad hissed. I stayed silent, marveling at his brilliant recovery. “She can’t wait to meet all of you. She’s really looking forward to meeting Rook!”

“Whoa!” I said, holding up my hands. “Hold the phone! I can’t even in my wildest dreams afford to go to Tolkicon, and Rook wouldn’t be caught dead in that cesspit of nerddom.”

“But Rook’s a superhero…,” El Jefe wondered out loud.

“Yes,” I said, narrowing my eyes.

“And you’re a superhero…,” Jackson ever so helpfully unhelpfully chimed in.

“Doi,” I said. “Is this going somewhere? Or are we going to keep stating the obvious and keep asking me sex questions?”

Chad laughed in a way I did not entirely appreciate, if I’m being honest.

“If you’re a superhero, your fans are nerds…. I mean… you’re pretty nerdy yourself, Hogarth.”

“I’m a geek,” I said defensively. “There is a difference.”

“And that is?” Jackson asked.

“Getting laid regularly,” I spat. Suddenly, everything was just way too uncomfortable, I gotta say. I was kind of hoping Rook would burst through the door and whisk me away into the night, but I was also kind of terrified these goons would jump him and make him the star of a horrific gay bukakke film. Which, ew, right?

Chad clasped his hand over mine, and I hate to admit my face flushed against my will. What the hell, me? Think of something unsexy, quick! Margret Thatcher naked on a cold day! Margret Thatcher naked on a cold day!

“Think about it, okay?” Chad asked. “It would mean a lot to me if you and Rook were there.”

Let me tell you, if that wasn’t an “I want you and your boyfriend to meet me and my boyfriend, so I can ask you all kinds of newbie baby gay questions” statement, I will eat Rook’s leather trench coat. If you were keeping score, my boyfriend is seven feet tall. He wears a stupid amount of dead cow. Animal rights activists everywhere are overcome with horror with his presence.

“I’ll think about it,” I said, smiling and doing my best to be encouraging. “I’ll see if I can scrounge some money together for passes. And drug Rook with an elephant tranquilizer.” I offered a chuckle. I rummaged for my phone, taking note of the time. “Aw, dammit. I’ve got to ever-so-conveniently make my escape.”

El Jefe gargled a laugh around his swig of Panther Piss. “Of course you do.”

“Yeah,” I said, holding up my phone so everyone could take note of my alarm reminder. The little cartoon Chihuahua on my screen barked and panted. “It’s my shift to walk the pampered pups of Gangnam Glitter Gulch.”

“I…,” Jackson began. “I thought you lived there in that rich bitch district.”

“Yeah,” I said, nodding.

“I thought you were stupidly wealthy,” Jackson said and I busted into laughter.

“I wish! Rook and I just… inherited the place,” I said.

“The Single and Super mansion?” Chad asked. “Hell of a place to inherit.”

“Short version, because I really gotta run,” I said, shifting in my seat. “A supervillain was using the brainwaves of the female contestants to make an alternate reality as a lair for his supervillain group. We busted it up. The show got cancelled because the show was a front for the whole scheme, and we moved in.”

“And you’re walking your neighbors’ dogs because?” El Jefe asked.

“Because the damned electricity bill doesn’t pay itself,” I said, wobbling a little on my right foot as I stood. I’d had the foresight to bring my cane with me this time, and hobbled toward it. As my foot dragged, I diverted the conversation away from my obvious gimpiness. “Do you know how much electricity a lair takes? And it wasn’t even our lair to start with! I’m going to have to e-mail Desmodus Demon for advice on cutting down the power.” I reached my cane and shifted my weight, the tracer lights inching up the shaft, assuring me of proper alignment. Ah, sweet victory of being able to stand like a normal person.

“What about the Tiamat?” Jackson asked, gesturing to the hex map and Chad’s expertly folded paper dragon.

Oh. Gamers. Always thinking the game is the most important thing in life.

“Toss me in as a virgin sacrifice to Tiamat’s hunger,” I said, navigating my way around the piles of dirty clothes to the rickety wooden stairs.

“That won’t work,” El Jefe said, palming his chin in deep thought.

God almighty, can I just leave? I really need to be outta here and back with Rook. Was it just that I wanted to be away from these guys or that I wanted to catch up with Rook and make sure his eyes really weren’t wandering? Can I take all of the above?

“Why?” I asked. Just leave, Garth, I told myself. Just leave. Just get up those freaking stairs on your stupid throbbing foot. Get going. But I just stood there, waiting for them to dismiss me.

“You’re not a virgin,” Jackson, bless his vapid head, squeaked.

I snorted a laugh in the most undignified way. “At least one of us isn’t.”


 

Copyright © 2014 Lex Chase. All rights reserved.

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