Author: James Stryker
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: December 19, 2106
Genre: Literary/Genre Fiction, trans, coming out, family
Luke may never have been close to his father, but he feels like he knew him. Jay was a frustrating parent – always urging Luke to go to mortuary school, disapproving of his Broadway aspirations, and favoring his other children. He even had the audacity to die mid-argument, forcing additional guilt on Luke for never meeting his expectations.
However, Luke’s assumptions about Jay are thrown into turmoil at the funeral when an enigmatic stranger, Tom, expresses gratitude that Jay finally shared his past with his children. When Luke can’t hide his confusion, Tom realizes his mistake and bolts. Riddled with questions, Luke confronts his family. He is shocked to discover that everyone guards the truth that Jay was a transgender man who’d been raised as a female. Practiced at keeping his father’s secrets, they’re unwilling to reveal anything further at Luke’s demand. Devastated by Jay’s lack of trust in him, Luke feels forced to abandon the family who deceived him although leaving them behind won’t answer his questions.
To discover the reason his father hid his gender identity, Luke seeks the only other person with answers, Tom. In Luke’s eyes, he is owed an explanation, even if it’s a difficult one. However, Tom harbors a deep protective devotion to Jay, a loyalty he feels the truth would betray. Additionally, as a man suffering with terminal cancer, he has no desire to drudge up painful memories by playing Luke’s Virgil. Luke must earn his trust before the secret past of both men dies with Tom.
James Stryker © 2016
All Rights Reserved
Luke ducked his chin into the jacket’s high collar. “It’s freezing, Tom. Fucking freezing. Don’t you want to go inside?”
“Not really. I may not be this cold again until I’m dead.”
“Most people would prefer it that way.”
“I’m not most people.”
Tom had doubted Beau would come, so he hadn’t been too disappointed that Luke arrived alone. He hoped the boy had remembered the sonogram picture though. Maybe he had it in the book under his jacket. But since it was just the two of them, Tom wasn’t inclined to relocate, despite Luke shivering like a mad man.
Sometimes it’s good to be uncomfortable. You have the rest of your life ahead of you, and I don’t feel I should have to accommodate anyone. Not even you.
“Zip your jacket, spunky. Give it a few minutes, and you’ll be fine.”
“I am fine.” Luke gritted his teeth and fidgeted on the cold metal of the chair.
“Put more conviction into your acting. Make me believe you’re not freezing your ass off.”
“That’s hard to do when I’m freezing my ass off.”
“Which may be why The Great White Way didn’t work for you. Not that it wasn’t always a one-in-a-million shot, but if you can’t even pretend you’re not cold for fifteen seconds, how can you make me believe that you could be anything else?”
Luke huddled around his coffee cup like a campfire until his body stopped shaking. Except his shoulders, which made Tom smile.
Jay was always cold in the shoulders too. You’re so like him. You have his eyes, his hair, his posture. I could squint and swear you’re him. It stunned me for a second when I stood face-to-face with you yesterday.
He deliberated telling Luke this, but decided not to. The boy had likely been reminded a hundred times during the viewing how much he resembled his father. And he’d hear the same thing a hundred more times today.
“Tell me about New York?” Tom offered, curious as to what lies Luke might create.
“Actually, I have questions I was hoping you could answer.” Luke met his eyes.
He should’ve anticipated that Luke would have questions. Whatever Jay had told him, there must not have been time to address any confusion. And depending on what he wanted to know, Tom knew he was the only resource for certain details. As much as Jackie was aware, there were gaps that could be filled by Tom alone—he’d been there.
It was moderately entertaining when Luke unzipped his jacket and revealed the red plaid book. The boy pushed it forward on the table.
“This fucking thing?” Tom ran his hand across the cover—the motley Scottish terrier playing bagpipes under a gold-emblazoned year. “It’s an ugly son of a bitch, isn’t it?
“Yes,” Luke replied.
Tom opened the book and flipped through the pages. As he turned them, he let the forgotten memories return. He hadn’t seen this book in years. A copy was at home, alongside three other editions, but he hadn’t taken it down since putting it on the shelf when he moved into the high-rise. And it’d been even longer since he’d gone through the photos. It seemed an old-man thing to do. Yet here he was at the end of his life, sifting through his youth and enjoying it more than he might’ve had he not been on cancer medication spiked with THC.
“There’s me. Orchestra.” Tom pointed to a photo of two dozen teenagers crowded onto three rows of bleachers. He was in the last row, the walnut-colored scroll of an instrument visible behind the shoulder in front of him. “I was first chair in violin my junior and senior year.”
“Were you?” Luke leaned forward, moving his chair closer.
Tom nodded, continuing to comb through the pages. “It was good, but not great. I prefer the piano. I auditioned for both programs at Julliard to double my chances. But thank God I made it with piano. I don’t think I would’ve been happy with anything else.” He wondered if this might catch the boy’s attention. Luke would be a special kind of idiot to not realize that Tom’s connections in the music world might benefit him.
If you ask me, I’ll do it. I can’t guarantee you a place there, or wherever you want to go, but I can ensure you get a callback. Jay wanted you to make it of your own merit; but I don’t have a problem giving you a leg up.
But that Luke didn’t ask pleased Tom, and he knew would’ve satisfied Jay as well. Maybe he didn’t want the help; he wanted to make it himself. It was an attitude Tom respected.
“Is my dad anywhere else in that book?”
“No.” Tom pinched several sports pages together and passed over them. “Jay didn’t do extracurriculars his senior year.”
“What was he like?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, what type of person was he?”
Tom looked up from the book as he was about to flip by the sophomore photos and into his own year. Luke fiddled with a red class ring that was as recognizable as the ugly yearbook.
No, he wouldn’t have told you how it was for him. If he’d had an infinite amount of time, it was still a sensitive subject. But it’s touching that you intuited how hard it was for him and want to know. Perhaps you’re less selfish than everyone thinks.
“Before or after?” Tom returned to paging through faces. He wondered how many of his classmates were dead.
“Before or after what?”
“Before or after he came out. He was a different person before the spring of 2004, when he decided everyone could go fuck themselves, and he was going to concentrate on escaping alive. To most people, it was a complete changeover when he came clean and stopped being as the person everyone else thought he was.” Tom located his junior photo and laughed again. “Was I ever this young?” He brought the book close to his face, tilting it to the side. “Or this awkward?”
“What do you mean he ‘came out’? ‘Came clean’?”
Tom’s gut seized sharply as he lowered the yearbook. His stomach had that tight feeling it did when he’d been vomiting for hours.
For the love of God, please tell me you didn’t, Jay. Or rather that you did—that you told him.
“Was my father gay? Is that what this is?”
“Not that I’ve been aware.” Tom swiped through the first half of the senior class of 2005. When he reached the correct page, he read the elegantly scripted names in his head. He looked at each face on both pages. He turned the page and analyzed the faces behind it. And then he read all the names again.
“You’re not back far enough, Tom.” Luke reached across and leafed four or five pages farther.
“That son of a bitch.”
Somehow, there Jay was. In the same blue gown as the rest of the class. His name in the same font. In front of the same motherfucking slate background. How had he done it?
Tom moved the pages between his thumb and first finger. They were a different texture. It could be missed, but they were lighter, glossier. And the pages preceding and following Jay’s page were of the same higher-quality paper. He turned the book on its spine and examined the binding. The yearbook was comprised of fifteen sections of folded paper, all professionally glued and stitched at their crease into the cover’s spine. It was subtle, but the eighth section was out of alignment. Tom set the yearbook back on the table.
“I know it’s fake.” Luke’s gaze slowly ping-ponged from him to the book, and his shoulders stopped shaking. “I want to know why.”
Meet the Author
James Stryker is a central-Pennslvannia author who enjoys writing speculative and literary fiction. Themes in his work focus toward diversity in the LGBTQ spectrum and the voice of underrepresented or misunderstood viewpoints. His debut novel, Assimilation, was released in 2016.
James shares a residence with a pack of pugs, who continue to disagree about the ratio of treats to writing. Despite his day job and writing projects, James is never too busy to connect with readers or other writers. He welcomes you to check out his website, follow him on social media, or drop a line to his email.
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