Michael stood at the bus stop, watching the gray city chickens gather up the crumbs he threw down from his cold Big Mac. They clustered, clucking, around one large hunk of bread, fighting each other in their efforts to tear off the largest piece. Finally, one large bird, a dappled male with bedraggled wings, simply picked up what was left and flew off to sit in the rain gutter along the upper edge of a nearby doughnut shop; leaving the rest to chitter their disappointment and wander the spot where it had been. Michael gave the victor a thumbs-up of approval. Sometimes, the direct approach was best.
He looked again at the bus schedule under the glass. Definitely late. He'd have to take another bus if this one didn't show soon. He hesitated, then closed his eyes and Pushed, gently.
Bright yellow bus, cool seats covered in blue velour, the chatter of voices, a forward motion; he was on it, seated, his newspaper folded across his lap.
Okay, fine. It was nearly here, he could wait a little longer without missing his connection. He felt a twinge of guilt for using it like this but he had places to go. It wasn't as if he'd hurt anyone or taken advantage; he hadn't, for instance, Pushed into the head of the cute guy sitting two feet from him and listening to a CD player through fashionably thin headphones. Not that it wouldn't be nice to know where he was going, Michael thought, he could even be headed home and then Michael might see the address. The guy might even think of his phone number, stranger things had happened.
But Michael wasn't in the mood; he didn't have time. He had to be at the church by five to set up for evening worship. And the bus would be here any second. He knew because he'd just Pushed ten minutes into time to see himself on that bus and headed into the District.
He knew because he was one of them. One of the different ones, the ones you didn't want your son to grow up to become, the ones you didn't really want to have move into your neighborhood, despite your claims to acceptance. He was part of that ten-percent of the population who had to be careful, had to keep so much of their lives secreted away from the great majority.
Michael was Queer. And some days, that really sucked the big one.
There was disagreement about how things had come to be this way, how the ten-percent had become more visible and, some said, more numerous. Back in the mid-twentieth century, there hadn't been so many or, if they were there, they'd kept to the shadows. Gradually, over the decades, their images had shown up more in films, in books and finally on television. There were now hit shows that featured some of them and every American seemed to know at least one. That didn't mean it was accepted or that it was something you'd want for your kids. After all, it was still possible to lose your job if the boss found out or to be denied service in a nice restaurant. Or even a lousy one. So they were careful, most living lives with two distinct sides, one where they were normal and blended with the rest, and living the other only when they could be with others like themselves and relax.
Michael's church was such a place. It was the Big Queer Church although that wasn't what was written on the outside of the building. And Michael was looking forward to a relaxing night lost in a crowd of people like himself. He fucking needed the break, he told himself.
Teaching high school English wasn't what Michael had thought it would be. Oh, it wasn't the kids, he could handle the kids. It was the self-righteous administrators and thoughtless parents that he'd come to despise. And having to hide who he was for eight hours a day drained it out of him in ways he couldn't always put into words. He just knew that it felt good to go to a place where he didn't have to worry about what other people thought. A place where he was accepted without question and without any need for pretense. Even so, some of the others were a little much at times. A little out there. A little obvious. Not that he was sure he had any right to feel that way, for all he knew, he was obvious, too.
He tried not to be, tried not to live such that anyone could tell what he was, but you just never knew for sure. All those silly sitcoms and light magazine articles had their drawbacks. Other people had more of a clue what to look for these days, how to recognize when someone was different. And that wasn't always a good thing in Michael's opinion. The dangers of exposure seemed to increase so much faster than the general public acceptance. And the new conservative upswing wasn't helping matters any. That this new American mood claimed to be faith based just made it more annoying. He was religious himself and resented other people using God to justify hate. His God wasn't like that.
The bus arrived and Michael boarded, flashing his laminated monthly pass. The bus took off with a belch of exhaust and headed up out of downtown and into the District.
Michael hated not driving but it just wasn't possible for him. He had tried to drive his own car, had done it for years. But he'd often Push without meaning to and confuse his senses, his reflexes kicking in for events on the road that hadn't happened yet, causing accidents. His ticket two years ago had been his last in every sense of the word; he just wasn't going to drive anymore. The city had a transit system and he wasn't too proud to use it. He liked meeting people at the stops, he'd always been a talker, but he hated the loss of control. If he wasn't on time, he wanted it to be his own fault, not because some bus driver was running late. Still, the alternative was much worse so he endured it, selling his car and buying the passes every month. There were worse fates.
The bus was drawing close to the church, street names flashing on the overhead strip in neon red. They were now deep in the District, the one part of the city where you could find a lot more than ten-percent who were different. And a lot more bars than elsewhere and a lot more people wandering the streets with no means of support visible. Bums did well in the District and populated its major streets, alongside those street people who lived in a fantasy world, people no doubt released from some facility in the conservative-backed funding cuts of the last fifteen years. Everyone seemed to suffer in this weather, everyone he knew, everyone in the District, and Michael couldn't wait for the wind to change.
He walked through the glass doors of the cathedral, nodding to the Angels answering phones in the reception area. He detoured through the bookstore, picking up a copy of the local newspaper, the Vox, that carried photos and articles about people like him, people who didn't always make the regular paper, people who were different. After kissing the bookstore attendant, a tall guy named Scott with a ponytail down his back, Michael entered the narthex of the church and looked around for the other ushers.
The church was huge on the inside, high arched ceilings with colorful stained glass windows depicting flowers and butterflies and a few fairies in attitudes of prayer; and an enormous cross inlaid in the stones behind the altar. Singers stood grouped just in front of it, taking a break from rehearsal, and four musicians lounged around them, wearing black and fiddling with packs of unfiltered cigarettes.
A tall, slender man with ice blonde highlights in his brown hair sat on the usher pew along the back wall of the narthex, leaning casually against the padded seat, his long legs stretched out in front of him. He looked up and saw Michael.
“Hey, Mikey, what's up?” he asked.
Michael sat down beside him, tossing the newspaper onto the bench and taking a deep breath.
“Not much, Flash, the usual.” Michael said as he leaned in to kiss the other man on lightly on the lips. “Bus was late, my job sucks and I don't have a boyfriend.” He smiled as he spoke, watching his friend.
Flash laughed, causing sparks to light up the slim fingertips now touching Michael's leg. Michael drew his leg back in consternation.
“Hey, watch that shit! These pants are new.” He brushed Flash's hand away, trying to look annoyed.
“Sorry, I'm a little stressed out, long day; I could use a little, ah, relaxation.” Flash snickered, leaning in for another kiss.
Michael turned his head, avoiding the kiss, and noticed the St. Elmo's fire playing around Flash's lap. He grimaced. Michael was always cautious when Flash was horny.
“No, thanks, I'm not grounded; I'm wearing loafers.” protested Michael. Flash leaned in again, a playful look in his eyes.
Michael evaded the lips, shaking his head with a grin. Flash laughed and leaned back, rolling tiny balls of blue fire between his fingertips in mild frustration. Michael watched fascinated, as always, by his friend's unselfconscious displays.
Flash was such a flamer.
“Ready to do setup or you wanna grab some coffee first?” he asked Flash.
Flash made a noncommittal sound; the blue fire dancing in his lap dying down and disappearing.
“I already had coffee but I'll go with you, Mike. Keep you company.”
He nodded and they both stood, Michael looking out across the lobby as he did so.
Jack was walking in the doors, waving a greeting into the bookstore as he passed. Everyone liked Scott, the longhaired bookstore volunteer. Jack came towards them, smiling and bouncing lightly as he walked. As he drew closer to the usher bench, his shoes started to leave the stone floor just slightly, he was rising up and coming gently back down onto the balls of his feet with each step.
Jack was a little light in his loafers, he couldn't help it. He always said he felt more at ease at the church, said he didn't worry so much about acting normal when he got there. So he didn't. They all felt that way, really, and Michael fought the urge to Push. He didn't really need to, he knew what they would all be doing for the next two hours, before and during the evening service. He didn't need to look ahead or in.
Which was good, looking into his friends sometimes gave him a lot more information than he needed, or even wanted. Most of them had a lot more fun than he did, tied to school and papers to grade as he was, and their timelines could get a little tricky to navigate. Not that this didn't offer some perks, now and then, when he Pushed back or forward into some racy moments but he always felt guilty about it afterwards. So he tried not to do it, he really did. They were his friends, after all.
Michael smiled at Jack as he approached. Jack wore a gray business suit, jacket folded over an arm, and his brown eyes sparkled.
“Hi, stud, how're they hangin'?” asked Flash, standing at Michael's shoulder and batting his green eyes at the newcomer. Michael rolled his eyes. Such a flamer.
Jack grinned at them.
“Low and heavy, same as always.” Jack said with a smirk. Flash put his arms around Jack and planted a kiss on his lips, sending a flurry of sparks up between them. Jack giggled and pushed him away.
“Cut it out, Flash, my insurance isn't paid up.” he protested.
Flash pulled back and pretended to pout while Michael kissed Jack without any attendant electricity. The fireworks Michael had shared with Jack in the past were never the visible kind. Nothing was ever fire damaged after Jack spent the night, something he couldn't say about sleepovers with Flash. Still, now and then it had been worth it, he admitted to himself. Flash was a dynamo in bed. The occasional scorched sheet was a small price to pay, he felt.
Michael pulled back, reluctantly, from the warmth of Jack's embrace. He had a sudden clear memory of Jacks' own bedroom skills and tried to ignore the reaction of his body. It had been a while. He wondered what Jack was doing after tonight's service.
“We were just gonna grab a coffee.” he told Jack, who nodded and laid his jacket down on the bench. The three of them walked to the Visitor Center, next to the bookstore, where coffee brewed whenever the church was open. The four musicians passed them, headed to the doors and pulling out lighters in their hurry to get started on their break. Michael could hear the singers arguing about today's arrangement in the front of the church. He tuned them out; he knew nothing about music except that its practitioners were always temperamental. Their argument meant nothing, he felt sure.
Jack reached the coffeepot first and made a face.
“The damn things turned off.” he complained. “Coffee's cold.”
Michael sighed as Flash smiled mischievously. Michael knew what was coming; he'd seen this trick before. Flash, with a theatrical flourish, touched the side of the coffeepot and closed his eyes. Jack saw the coffee begin to roil in the pot, heating up and approaching boiling point, and blushed furiously. He remembered something similar from a night last year with Flash and felt momentary embarrassment. Flash looked over at him with a knowing smile and took his hand from the coffeepot. Jack swallowed and reached for a white styrofoam cup.
As they poured their coffee, Michael watched Jack struggle to keep his cup flat on the surface of the counter. Nervousness always effected Jack like that; he lost some of his careful control. Hell, it effected all of them like that, Michael supposed. Jack's cup kept lifting from the counter, floating lightly just above the laminated surface as he filled it with coffee. The weight of the liquid seemed to help, though, and the cup settled slowly, finally touching down solidly onto the counter, full of the steaming coffee. Jack looked relieved.
Michael knew just how he felt. Last week, low on sleep and exhausted, he'd inadvertently Pushed into the handsome young Latino checker scanning his groceries at the store. The results had sent blood to Michael's face in hot flush of embarrassment. The boy had caught his expression and looked at him lasciviously from under thick lashes, dark eyes flashing as he handed Michael the receipt. Michael was sure he'd felt something as the boy's fingers brushed his, some kind of cold contact energy that made his cock twitch.
Damn, he had thought, this kid was way too young and he hadn't meant to initiate anything, he was just tired. The images from the boy stayed with him into the night, though, fueling some pretty steamy dreams.
Michael had never found it particularly easy to hide what he was, and any distraction was liable to out him. He needed to be more careful, he knew, but sometimes things just happened. At least it wasn't illegal anymore, to be the way he was, though if the conservatives in congress had their way it fucking would be. Michael frowned, remembering one of his duties from the recent meeting of the local Justice League. He looked at his friends as he waited for his coffee to cool.
“Hey, either of you guys up for some voter registration stuff in the District this week?” Michael asked cautiously. He hated asking them to do more but it really was for a good cause. Flash groaned and made a face; Jack studied Michael thoughtfully.
“This for the Justice thing?” he asked.
Michael nodded, ignoring the faint sparks that were starting to melt the foam edges of the cup in Flash's hand. Everyone knew that Flash hated politics. That didn't mean he wouldn't help, just that he would eke all possible drama out his acquiescence. Flash set his cup down half-finished on the countertop beside the flyers for various church activities and glared at Michael.
“Does this involve walking door to door like last time?” he asked with a sniff. Such a priss, Michael thought to himself.
“No, Flash, nothing like that. We'll have a table outside the bookstore is all, with a banner. Nothing major, no big effort, you just have to be there and look pretty, smile at the nice men walking along the Strip and get them to register to vote.” Michael said with a grin.
Flash raised his eyebrows.
“And I can dress how I want?” he asked, a sly look on his face.
The last time Michael had asked for their help, they'd had to wear suits and ties on their day off and he had yet to hear the end of it. Michael sighed.
“Hell, yes, wear a tiara and ball gown if you feel like it. It is the District, it's not as if anyone will care. For all I know, that'd get more guys to sign up to vote. You do look stunning when you want to, hon.” Michael answered, patting Flash firmly on the ass as he spoke.
Jack laughed as Flash feigned a swoon in response.
“Don't start anything you don't plan to finish, Mikey.” Flash warned.
“You've got my number and my schedule, Flash, I don't wanna hear any complaints.” Michael reminded his friend. “Feel free to come by anytime that I'm not grading papers.” he added, grinning.
Flash rolled his eyes.
“Honey, I don't plan that far in advance, you'll be grading papers until Christmas break if I know you.” Flash said with a pout.
Michael nodded, suddenly remembering how tired he was of his school.
“Yeah. I know.” Michael said, tossing his empty coffee cup into the trash. He noticed Jack studying his face.
Jack leaned close and kissed him softly on the lips again, the full body contact causing Michael to smile as they pulled apart.
Jack slid his arm around Michael's waist and pulled him close as all three men walked back to the usher bench to start setting up for the service. Michael couldn't help noticing that Jack's feet were firmly planted on the floor as they did so. It was amazing to him, the things that brought Jack down to earth like that. Concern for a friend was always heavy enough to keep him grounded.
Michael pulled Jack's arm closer around him and smiled to himself. He knew he could use the concern; he'd spent far too much time alone lately. He could almost feel Jack's affection in the air; it was as palpable as the light cologne that tickled his nostrils. Nice, thought Michael, feeling his, ah, interest grow in the heat of Jack's body, so close to his. He looked over at Jack's handsome face, taking in the dark eyes and the dimples showing faintly.
Jack smiled at Michael's scrutiny, his eyelashes slowly touching his cheeks and raising dreamily. Jack's hand moved downward to stroke across Michael's jean-clad bottom as they walked side by side. He leaned over and kissed Michael on the neck, just above his collar. Flash, walking ahead, didn't seem to notice. Michael blushed.
Michael had a feeling he wasn't going home alone tonight. And sex with Jack was always an uplifting experience.
He just hoped he wouldn't have to pull Jack off the ceiling again afterwards.
Queer sex never was boring, though, Michael had to admit. He was glad he'd come to church tonight despite being tired. He loved their part of the city, loved all the people in it.
One of these days, they'd all vote the conservatives out of office and life would be perfect. Until then, he'd catch whatever happiness he could.
Life in the Big Queer City… Michael wouldn't trade it for anything.
[End of Part One]