Sunday, 14 August 2016

Have you Read - The Next Call?

Have you read... The Next Call?

Sometimes falling in love isn't as simple as meeting the right man.

Mark Grayson volunteers for an LGBT helpline, the same one that helped him through his teenage years. One day he takes a call from “Ricky,” a suicidal man being forced into a marriage he doesn't want. For weeks Mark talks to Ricky and provides support, but he’s frustrated by the lack of information Ricky provides and the decisions he’s making. In the meantime, Mark starts a relationship with another volunteer. Then tragedy strikes and Mark takes time away from the helpline, but when he comes back, Ricky is waiting. Mark realizes Ricky is stronger than before and their relationship changes, but Mark isn’t sure what their future holds if their relationship is destined to be at the end of the phone.

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Excerpt:


Chapter 1

April 2014



“AND YOU suck at blowjobs.” Tam sneered as he walked out of the door.

Mark thought that was kind of the point.


Mark’s colleague and supposed best mate Jez laughed so loudly he disturbed the old blokes at the front of the pub watching the footie, and they turned en masse to glare at him. Jez ignored them and turned back to Mark.


“He said you suck at giving head? Harsh!” The git was far too pleased with himself. “Then what did he do?”

“He took off with whoever he could find on Grindr.”

“Oh bugger. Tam’ll be back.”

Mark didn’t care if his ex-boyfriend returned or not. “If he wants any of his gear, he’d better. I dumped it all by the wheelie bin.”

“When do they pick up?”

“Tuesday.”

“He can fuck Friday through Monday and pick his gear up early Tuesday.”

Mark scowled at him. “Nice to see you’re on my side.”

Jez shrugged. “You’re better off without him. You know that. The bloke’s a waste of oxygen.”

“Pretty, though.”

Tam had been slim and pretty with hair like ripe corn and blue eyes with dark lashes. And an eight-inch cock that he knew just where to stick. His cock was pretty too.

“Meh. He was too up his own arse for me.” Jez preferred his men large and docile.

“I preferred it when he was up my arse.” Mark sighed.

“You need to get back on the horse. There’s plenty of meat for you to ride, my son.”

“It’s been a while.

“Don’t leave it as long as you did last time.”

Mark frowned. “I met Tam two weeks after Steve dumped me.”

“That’s fourteen days without coming.”

“Two weeks, man. It is possible.”

Jez actually shuddered. “My dick would fall off if it went that long without action.”

“You have a right hand.”

“I’ve got a left hand as well, but it’s not the same as a nice tight arse.” Mark pursed his lips and looked speculatively at Jez, who caught his look. “No. No.”

“Why not?” Mark asked.

“It’s just fucking wrong.”

“You’re a top. I’m a bottom.”

“You’re like my brother, and anyway… Jamie.

“I thought you weren’t fussy, and you were just friends with Jamie.”

“Limits, dude.”

Mark was honestly surprised—he didn’t think Jez had any limits. Even with a pulse.

“Grindr it is, then.”

“It could hook you up with Tam.”

Mark heaved himself to his feet. “Gotta go. Busy tonight.”

“Suicide Queens.”

There was no point correcting Jez. He was as PC as an old Tory politician in the Daily Mail. “Yeah. Every Saturday, as clockwork.”

Three times a week, Mark did a stint at a local LGBT helpline, hence Jez’s scornful “Suicide Queens.” Mark had been working on the helpline for years, listening to teens too scared to come out to Mum and Dad, and kids who’d realized they were trapped in the wrong bodies. He would stumble home, wrung out after hours of listening to hurt and confusion while trying to be supportive and reassuring. No one, certainly not Jez, knew that he’d used the helpline as a teenager and had been grateful for the support. He would do whatever he could to keep the helpline open for every LGBT who needed a calm voice on the end of the line.

“Gotta go,” Mark said. “See you Monday evening?”

“Sure. Save lives, or do whatever shit you get up to.” Jez’s attention was already on the repeat of last Saturday’s football. “You’re such a sucking loser, dickhead.”

Mark pulled a face as Jez bellowed at the hapless striker on the screen. Outside on the pavement, he blinked at the bright sunlight of late afternoon. He just had time to walk to his flat and shove a ready meal in the microwave before he was due at the helpline. Mark had learned from experience that he couldn’t take on the night shift without eating first.

The night was long enough, and he mainlined coffee and Red Bull until he felt his veins thrumming. Mark counted himself very lucky. His boss in the IT department where he worked allowed him to take the night shifts on the understanding he made up the hours. Mark looked at his choice of meals and pulled a face—cottage pie, fish pie, or lasagna. He was going to have to learn to cook, or he’d be repeating the same meals over and over. He pulled the first one out of the freezer—cottage pie—and shoved it in the microwave. That and baked beans would do him fine. He needed to get a move on, or he’d be late for his shift.

In the small office that had served as the helpline’s base for the last twenty-five years, the other two people—Jamie, Jez’s sometime bed buddy, and Sandra, who regularly manned the phones with him—huddled around the coffee machine. They joked that the only thing the management spent money on was coffee and decent machines. Someone had once suggested instant coffee. It was the closest the helpline had ever come to shutting down.

“Slow night?” Mark asked as he dumped his bag on the desk.

“What do you think, Mark? Gay or straight?” Jamie held up a newspaper. The back page had a picture of Dicky Lomax, the current Premiership wunderkind. The man earned more money in a week than Mark earned in a year.

Mark shrugged. “Straight, I guess.”

Dicky always had beautiful girls on his arm. He was the poster child for macho footballers everywhere.

Sandra made a scoffing noise. “No way. He’s gay. Look at the way he’s standing.”

Jamie snorted. “Your gaydar needs jerking. No way is the man queer. I would know. I can spot a closeted queer a mile away.”

It was her turn to snort. “You wish you could, you mean. Then you might have a chance of catching one.”

Mark grabbed the paper from Jamie and stared at the image of Dicky Lomax, ignoring the beautiful rent-a-woman on his arm. The footballer looked like he always did—cocky, with a cheeky smile, and his dark hair tousled and dropping into his eyes. He was just Mark’s type, lean and not too tall. Mark preferred rugby, but he didn’t go for the stature of rugby players. He liked the lean strength of football players, which made no sense at all.

Dicky was born in the wrong era. He should have been a footballer in the nineties when they were the celebrities. He seemed to soak up all the fame and attention. Mark didn’t pay much notice to their antics off the field. He wasn’t into footie per se, but he didn’t mind when Jez dragged him into the Lion on a Saturday afternoon. The man could kick a ball, and that was all Mark cared about.

“You can stop drooling now.” Sandra snatched the paper from him.

“I’m not drooling.”

“Oh, please. You were nearly licking his crotch.”

Mark grimaced. “You’re gross for an old lady, do you know that?”

“Well, yes.” Sandra rolled her eyes at him as if he had said something truly stupid.

The phone rang, and Sandra thrust the paper back. “Mine’s a tea, and keep the jerk-off noises down to a minimum.”

Mark was tempted to tell her to make her own fucking tea, but then he heard her answer the phone, and he listened to her calm voice. Frankly, he would have made a thousand cups. Sandra had been with the helpline since it started back in the eighties. She’d lost her youngest son, Miles, to AIDS in the early days as it ravaged the gay community and had been a mum to so many ever since. Mark remembered her voice when he’d rung, a young man desperate to hear he wasn’t gay, that the fact he liked boys rather than the girls was “just a phase.” She’d been so reassuring and matter-of-fact that by the end of the call, he’d managed to breathe again.

He once told her she’d helped him. Sandra had kissed his cheek and said that was what made her job worthwhile. Then she’d walked away and sobbed in the ladies as she remembered her son. She’d told him that later on.

Mark placed the mug of tea on her desk and left another with Jamie, who was on another call. It was a busy start to the evening.

Mark had just sat at his desk when he took his first call. The caller needed information rather than advice, and Mark gave out the local HIV testing center and condom advice to a teenager between slurps of tea.

The evening was busy enough that it was gone midnight before he stopped for something to eat. Jamie placed another mug of tea in front of him.

“So what happened to Tam?”

Mark eyed him warily. “What makes you think something’s happened to Tam?”

“For a start you haven’t complained about him once since you got here.”
“I’ve been busy.”

“And Jez texted me.”

“There’s a surprise.”

Jez and Jamie’s relationship baffled Mark. Neither of them supposedly wanted a relationship. They wanted to eat each other. Mark thought they were both blind.

“So he’s left?”

Mark shrugged. “I suppose. There’s no real going back from ‘you’re crap at blowjobs.’” That wasn’t all he’d said, of course.

Jamie’s lips twitched. “I guess not. Bastard. Are you okay?”

“I’ve had the Oprah moment with Jez, thanks. I’m fine.” Mark wasn’t, but there was no way he’d share that with Pinky and Perky. “It’s been a busy night.”

Jamie thankfully seemed to realize their caring-and-sharing moment was over. “Hell yeah. Don’t they teach sex ed at school anymore? I’ve had half-a-dozen calls asking where they can get HIV testing done.”

“Me too,” Sandra said. “Bet it was some school project.”

Mark wrapped his hands around the mug and blew across the hot liquid. “Gives us something to do, I guess.”

“True.” Sandra narrowed her eyes. “What’s this about Tam?”

Mark sighed. “He said I suck at blowjobs.”

“Ouch. Although I thought that was kind of the point.”

“I love you,” Mark said and kissed her cheek.

“You never kiss me,” Jamie complained.

“There is a reason for that,” Sandra said. “Many reasons, in fact. Where shall I start?”

Mark’s phone rang again. He could have kissed it for its excellent timing. “I’ll take this call. Go away, both of you. Surrey LGBT helpline, Mark speaking.”

“H… hi.”

A genuine call rather than a request for information. He made a shooing gesture with his hand to get rid of Jamie and Sandra as he answered, “Hi.”

“I….”

Mark waited patiently. When nothing was forthcoming, he said, “There’s no rush. I’m here for as long as you need me.”

“I… hate it.” The words tumbled over each other.

“What do you hate?”

“This!”

Mark took a stab in the dark. “Being gay?”

“I’m not a poof. Don’t say that.”

“I’m sorry.” The sound of the dial tone cut Mark off in the middle of his apologies. He waited, but the caller didn’t ring back.

“That was short,” Sandra said.

“He’ll call again.”

People like that usually did. It took a long time to work up the nerve to actually speak to someone.

The phone rang again, and Mark picked it up. “Surrey LGBT helpline.”

“Where can I get tested for being a fag?”

Mark rolled his eyes. “You want the phone number for HIV testing?"

“That’s what I said.”

The temptation to tell the young man to fuck off and die was great, but Mark had years of experience in reining in his true feelings. He gave out the same numbers as he had all evening and thankfully disconnected the call to the little shite.

The phone rang. He was tempted to leave it because he needed a break, but Jamie and Sandra were on calls of their own. “Surrey LGBT helpline. Mark speaking.”

“I’m sorry.”

Mark recognized the hesitant voice from earlier. “There’s no need to be sorry.”

“It’s just so hard, you know?”

“I do,” Mark said. “It’s not an easy thing to admit you’re gay."

“I’m not gay.” Mark kept silent. “I’m not. Maybe… maybe bi-curious, but that’s all. I haven’t… ever… with a man. Ever.”

“Have you thought about it?”

“Yes.” The word was dragged out of him reluctantly, as if it wrenched his soul to answer.

“That’s okay, you know? Lots of people have thought about it. Not everyone acts on it.”

“But I can’t stop thinking, and I’m not a queer like you.”

Mark sighed inwardly. These closet cases were the hardest to deal with. They were full of rage at themselves for being “abnormal,” and they vocalized that rage at Mark. It was okay, Mark could take it. At first he had taken it personally, but he had learned it wasn’t personal, just a man’s way of dealing with his fear.

“What can I call you? It doesn’t have to be your real name. It’s just easier to have a chat if I can call you something.”

“Di…. Ricky.”

Mark didn’t acknowledge the hesitation. “My name is Mark.”

“I know. You told me already.”

“So I did. How long have you been having these bi-curious feelings, Ricky?”

“A long time.” The self-loathing was back.

“When you were a child?”

“Yes.”

“Under ten?”

“Yes. I hate it. It’s wrong. It’s abnormal."

“Who told you that, Ricky?”

“My mum. She said it was shameful.”

Mark’s eye was caught by Sandra making a T with her fingers, and he shook his head. This was definitely a C call. There were times when only strong coffee would do. “But the feelings didn’t go away?”

“No.”

“But you’ve never acted on them?”

“I said that already.”

“That must be very hard for you.” Mark heard the long drawn-out sigh.

“You have no idea,” Ricky said.

Mark had a very good idea, but all he said was “Why don’t you tell me?”

“I… can’t.”

“Ricky, you can. I am someone you can tell. I won’t judge you or call you names. I am just here to listen.”

“I’m too old to be doing this.”

“Why did you call?”

“I need someone to talk at.”

At, not to.

“You can do that. My time is yours.”

“You must get fed up with people like me.”

Mark shook his head even though Ricky couldn’t see him. “I never get fed up with calls from people who need help. I was that person, and now I can help others.” Huh, he didn’t normally give that information away. “Talk to me. Tell me why you called now.”

“My girlfriend wants to get married.”

“Do you want to get married?”

“I love her.” He didn’t sound that convinced.

“That’s good.” Mark couldn’t think of anything worse than being forced into marriage with a woman. For both of them. No woman deserved to be deceived. “How long have you been together?”

“Six months….” There was a long pause. Long enough that Mark wondered if he’d been cut off. “Almost.”

“She must be sure you’re the one.”

“She is. My parents are. The whole fricking world seems to think we’re made for each other.”

“It’s hard when you’re not as certain.”

“Yeah.”

“Especially when you have these feelings.”

“They won’t go away, but I’m not a homo.”

Unseen, Mark rolled his eyes. Of course the “feelings” weren’t going away. Ricky was a poof, a homo, gay—whatever he wanted to call it.

Sandra plonked the mug down in front of him and squeezed his shoulder.

“Ricky, would it be so bad to come out?”

Ricky snorted loudly. “You have no fricking idea. None. I admit I’m queer”—Mark wondered if Ricky even noticed the admission—“and my whole world blows up in my face. I’ll have nothing. No family. No career. No life.”

Mark didn’t try to reassure him or make some comment about Ricky having found himself. For some people that wasn’t enough.

“You’re in a difficult situation.”

“No shit, Sherlock.”

“If I was Sherlock, I’d be able to find a solution.”

“Not for me. Never for me. Oh shit, I’ve got to go.”

“Call again.” But Mark was talking to the dial tone.

He sat back and closed his eyes, sipping at the coffee and taking time to decompress.

“You okay, hon?”

Mark opened his eyes. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

“It sounded like a difficult one.”

“For him. I think I’d have preferred an evening of giving out HIV clinic phone numbers.”

“Do you think he’ll ring back?”

Mark shrugged. “Who knows? He’s a man in pain, poor bastard.”

“Suicidal?”

“No. Just watching his life run out of his control.”

“Poor bastard,” Jamie said.

Jamie understood that situation only too well. He was in his late thirties and had lost everything when he finally admitted he was gay—family (ex-wife refused to let his kids even talk to him), job (in the family business), and home (paid for by the business).

Mark had once asked him if he regretted it. “Every single day, Mark. But I’m finally able to breathe and eat and sleep. And fuck. I don’t regret that.”

“You should be the one listening to him,” Mark said.

Jamie shook his head. “There’s a reason we get these calls.”

Jamie was a firm believer in each caller being guided to the right person to help them, and Sandra’s philosophy was similar. Mark thought it was total bollocks, but he never said that in front of the others. He wanted to live.

1 comment:

  1. Lovely! This is one of yours I haven't read yet but it's waiting patiently on my Kindle. I'm going to have to bump it up the list. <3 :)

    ReplyDelete