Life on the dole in a dying town is defined by drinking when you can, smoking to pass the time, and, if you’re gay, going down to the barracks at the old port to get some. Iwan’s got the cigarettes and the booze down pat, but he lacks experience, so he sticks to online porn and watching the lads portside.
Everyone else seems to have learned how to get what they want, yet Iwan can't get past everything that could go wrong. He knows who he is, regardless of labels. But no matter how often his best friend tells him to just go for it, he doesn’t trust others to see past his mismatched body.
Paying for what he’s afraid to get for free may seem absurd, but it’s better than just watching, and it’s better than porn. It may not change the world he lives in, but with luck, it will change him.
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The red paint on the barrack’s foundation had been new once, but it was peeling off now, specks of it swimming in the oily rain puddle collecting at the corner of the building and seeping wet into the weathering cement. The clouds rolled in from the Channel, past the cranes in the docks and the cawing gulls, and pushed the water against the rusting metal sheets of the quay.
Iwan pulled his hood tighter over his head to keep the wind from crawling through the short hair at the back of his neck and down under his shirt. His beanie plastered his hair to his forehead and he wiped at the sea-damp, tickling strands. He wished he hadn’t left his smokes on his desk, if only to keep his fingers busy. Instead he had to settle on pushing his hands deeper into the pockets of his jeans as he glanced at the open door of the abandoned building. He toed the pebbles and pretended having just chanced upon this place, a mere accident, truly, as his heart beat high in his throat and too fucking hard in his crotch.
The town had been thriving eighty years ago, those were the stories in the pub. Workers had shifted coal onto ships and off to the whole world. They’d come home tired and fathered children who’d left school at fourteen and gone to work shifting coal onto ships. Now the barren buildings of the former port let them play hide-and-seek as children and suck-and-fuck a few years later, passing the time between useless job applications and letters to the council.
The idea of the whole world in the days of the coal trade had shrunk to postcards in the corner shop, smokes, some alcohol, and your cock in someone’s mouth if you were lucky. It wasn’t a worse world so much as a different one.
The barracks were the only thing that remained amidst the rusting cranes and quays, the few pontoons that were breaking up in the saltwater, and the gulls. The town emptied out more with every year, leaving houses with rooms full of children’s toys or the odd piece of furniture someone didn’t think they’d need in whatever golden new future they were going for.
Iwan glanced over his shoulder to the incline up into town. Two old blokes stood at the low fence, gesturing out at the water in the setting dusk. Iwan looked back towards the barrack, hands getting clammy when he saw Jonah leaning against the outside wall.
Jonah was a few years older, a few years more cynical, and a few years cockier—all innuendos intended—than Iwan. He was one of the blokes half the town spoke about in whispers when they mentioned the barracks, Jonah and the lads like him, right down and dirty poofters they were, they said.
“What do you want?” Jonah called. His cigarette hung from the corner of his mouth. The wind dragged at his dark brown hair, pushing the strands into his face. He pulled a hand from his pocket to palm the cigarette and flick the ash aside. His plaid shirt was unbuttoned halfway down his chest, jeans tight on his waist, belt studded and thick, nipples pebbled, crotch prominent, and he looked like he had no care in the world, was amused even by Iwan staring at him like an idiot.
“Nothing.” The wind dragged the word from Iwan’s mouth.
Jonah looked him up and down, eyes squinting. Iwan ducked his head. It was obvious Jonah didn’t recognise him, not from around town or anything else. He huffed out a breath, relief followed by a whole different type of nerves.
“Piss off then,” Jonah said. “Or come in?” He laughed and winked.
Iwan wavered. He could take the plunge right this moment and step forward into the inviting V of Jonah’s thighs, press tight to his front, crotch to crotch, but before he’d quite made a decision either way, the pebbles crunched under the thin soles of his trainers, Jonah’s laughter and the wind at his back. Fingers balled to fists in his pockets, he didn’t turn around.
Days like this it felt as if he’d never stop playing hide-and-seek like one of the snotty-nosed six-year-olds for the sole reason of being a coward about it all. Even with the low curl of arousal mixed with fear and downright humiliation, he was still walking away, when he knew he’d beat himself up over it in a few hours.
He stopped by the corner shop on the way into town and shelled out for a few cans of Strongbow. Some children pedalled past him on bicycles on the way up from the docks. They shouted about something one of them had to see, then disappeared around the corner of another grey building, accompanied by the cry of a gull.
Iwan looked over his shoulder. Down at the docks, Jonah still leaned against the outside of the barrack, face tilted to the sea until he turned his head and seemed to look right at Iwan. He was merely a dark blob against the backdrop of the jagged edges of the quays, but Iwan ducked into the town proper anyway, feeling too caught out with his proverbial dick in his hands, wanking away.
Back at home, the TV was running in the living room, his mum and Rhys parked in front of it. Each had a sogging portion of chips in their laps. Iwan stole past the doorway.
“Where’ve you been?” his mum called over the laugh track on the telly.
“Out!” Iwan didn’t wait for a reply, only hurried up the steps to his room. “Shush, go away,” he told the cat that had curled on his bed. He closed the door behind it and picked up his phone. “Slag, you free?”
“Piss off.” Lyn’s voice sounded tinny, music blotching out most of it. She listened to all the latest shit, hip hop and dubstep, that made the windows vibrate with the bass and her neighbours bang on the walls to get her to shut up. “I’m free. What do you have?”
She huffed. “In the park, yeah?” Then she hung up.
Word Count: 11,400
Page Count: 35
Cover By: L.C. Chase
Release Date: 06/16/2012