Excerpt for Afterglow by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

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Published by Elliott Junkyard

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2017 Elliott Junkyard

All rights reserved. No part of this ebook may be used or reproduced in any manner without permission of the publisher, except for the purpose of reviews. This book is a work of fiction and all names, characters, places, and incidents are fictional. Any resemblance to actual people or events is coincidental.

Edited by Jo Ladzinski

Cover photo by Liane Metzler

Courtesy of Unsplash.com

Cover design by Elliott Junkyard


Elliott Junkyard

Zach leans his head back against his seat, his eyes growing heavy. A few feet in front of him, the flight attendant drones on about safety instructions. Zach has been on so many flights in the past two years, he can probably recite them in his sleep. First class is a nice perk of being on the top of the Billboard charts but sometimes he misses playing coffee shops and sleeping in his own bed every night.

His album dropped a week ago. It isn’t his first since signing to a major label, but it is his first since the mainstream media has been aware of his existence. The teenagers of Tumblr jumped on board as soon as they realized the majority of his songs don’t explicitly gender the love interest. In spite of the pressure to conform, he stood by that decision throughout his writing process.

The rest of the Internet joined the bandwagon when his first EP came out. It was only three songs, but the label agreed to do a music video for each one to build up buzz for his upcoming full length. The first one featured a straight couple, the second a gay couple, and the third a lesbian couple.

Signing with Ocean Records meant a lot of things. It meant a platform for his music. It meant not having to work a shitty retail job any more. But, it also meant keeping his preference for dudes over girls to himself. He and Alicia had been together for over a year when he signed. At the time, the pros seemed to outweigh the cons. He’d been stealth since he started his transition nearly a decade ago, but he’d never been closeted about his queerness before. He knew they were taking a huge risk on him, which he appreciated. He was willing to keep himself in the closet, but he wasn’t going to let them straightwash his music.

It’s been a point of contention with his PR people since day one.

He expected more of the same type of buzz as over his EP: A couple local radio interviews the day of the concert, maybe a few TV spots. He thought he knew what he was getting into, but reality threw him for a loop. He’s spent the last four days in three different time zones. By the end of the third, he could barely remember what city he was in. London is his next stop before starting a six-city tour across Europe.

It’s his first major headlining tour. On his first time out of the U.S.

He closes his eyes as the plane takes off. His thoughts drift to when he lands and he’ll get to break in his brand new passport. Name: Zachary Allen Orzechowski. Gender: Male. First stamp, London.

When he opens his eyes again, he notices the dimmed light in the cabin. The sun sets over the horizon. He’s been asleep for hours. Exhaustion must have taken over. The next thing he notices is that his mouth tastes like death. He unbuckles his seatbelt and rummages through his carry-on for his travel toothbrush and toothpaste. The inconvenience of brushing one's teeth in an airplane bathroom far outweighs the suffering of morning breath until the plane lands.

He bumps into a guy about his age who was waiting outside the bathroom. Zach had thought he was alone in first class. The guy is a little bit taller than Zach with dark curly hair and large wire-rimmed glasses. He’s wearing a bright blue hoodie underneath a navy blazer and black skinny jeans ripped at the knees. He’s the kind of nerdy-cute Zach was totally into when he was in high school. And now too, apparently.

Zach returns to his seat. He calculates the number of hours left. A flight attendant comes by to offer him “coffee, tea, or something stronger.” He’d really like to take her up on the latter but he knows drinking will only make his jet lag worse. He asks for a blanket instead.

The other passenger returns from the bathroom and smiles at him on his way back to his seat. Zach notices that his hoodie has Smokey the Bear on the front. There’s some text that accompanies the image but it’s covered by the blazer. Zach smiles back.

Zach spreads out the blanket over his lap. He reclines his seat and pulls his earbuds and phone out of the pockets of his cardigan. He opens his podcast app and chooses an episode of This American Life at random. He drifts off halfway through the broadcast and wakes up to silence.

He checks his watch. They land in roughly an hour and a half. He puts his seat up, throws off the blanket and stands up. When he was a kid, he never understood why the crew told you when it was okay to move about the cabin. When he got older, he realized those announcements were more or less for the folks in first class who had the space to move around. He does a couple laps around the cabin, stretching his legs and on his third go round, the other passenger meets him at his seat.

The guy is fiddling with the strings of his hoodie as he stares awkwardly at Zach. He looks like he’s in his early twenties, but he could be older.

People still have a hard time believing that Zach is 28. Trans fountain of youth, he and his friends used to call it. He fakes a laughs whenever some middle-aged talk show host asks him his secret, but he wonders how they would react if they knew the real answer.

“Um. Are you Zachary Allen?” He asks with a nervous shudder.

“The one and only,” Zach says, rubbing his weary eyes. “What can I do for you?”

“I’ve been debating coming over and saying hi for like the last hour,” he says. He sits down on the armrest of the seat across the aisle. “I really liked your new album.”

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