Excerpt for Lights Out, Valentine by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

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Lights Out, Valentine

“Valentine’s Day is the worst day of the year,” I grumbled, stalking into the South Beach Salon of Beauty, or SoBe S-O-B, as those of us unfortunate enough to work there call it.

The only other stylist in the salon at the time was Lora, a part-time plus-size model who styled hair on the side, and liked to match her nail polish to her smock. Today’s color was, of course, bright red.

“What crawled up your butt and died, Ryan?” she asked, looking up from wrapping foils around the hair of a dark-haired man who was old enough to know better.

“There’s so much pressure everywhere to be in love,” I said, dropping my bag on the chair I liked to use, the one in the corner with the working hair dryer. “Roses and cupids and hearts everywhere you look. Every other street corner has a pile of stuffed animals for sale, and there are people selling roses at every highway exit. It’s like everyone has a valentine but me.”

The man in the chair looked up. “You just have to shut it out,” he said. He was in his mid-forties, a good-looking guy except for the unfortunate color choice. “You want a box of candy or a dozen roses? Buy it yourself. You’ll be happier in the long run.”

“I’m surrounded by grinches,” Lora said.

“Grinches hate Christmas,” I said.

“Devils then.” She put her fingers up in the shape of a cross. “Get thee behind me, Satan. My husband gave me the most romantic gift ever today.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“A stackable washer-dryer. Fits into our hall closet, and it means I don’t have to schlep to the laundromat anymore. I love it.”

Yeah, I thought. I didn’t even have someone to give me a washer-dryer, which contrary to what Lora thought, was NOT the most romantic gift ever.

I couldn’t stop thinking about Valentine’s Day, though, as a stream of customers passed through my chair. A fifty-something guy who I had to gently dissuade from a comb-over, a young woman with too much product in her long black ringlets, and on and on. Every one of them was babbling about plans to celebrate the most romantic day of the year.

Why didn’t I have a boyfriend? I snuck a look at myself in the mirror. True, I wasn’t at my best in a blue smock with dye stains on the pocket and a series of hair clips nesting on my shoulder. But my skin was clear, my brown hair trimmed perfectly by Lora, and my teeth straight after years of orthodontia.

I tried to look at my profile. I have a great nose—not too big or too small, not hooked at the end or bumpy in the middle. I used a product to fill out my eyelashes, which were naturally too skimpy, and I obsessed over shaving every morning so that there were no stray hairs.

When I got myself together to go out, I looked very sharp—I’m a winter, so I know just what colors work for me, and I keep myself in shape by regular workouts with the gay swim team.

So why was I still single?

Probably because I always went for the wrong kind of guy, I thought, as I snipped the bangs of a teenaged girl from Finland who was an aspiring model. She hardly spoke English but she had cheekbones to die for. I liked men who were solid, settled, and secure, and they were few and far between on South Beach. If they showed up at all, they were either straight or in long-term relationships.

I had a brief break in the late afternoon so I slipped out and walked the couple of blocks up Washington to the Starbucks on Lincoln Road. Every store I passed was filled with Valentines’ crap—tiny bears in red and pink tuxedos and paper hearts and cupids hung on red wires from the ceiling.

I grabbed my drink and hurried back to the salon instead of lingering there scoping out the man candy. I looked at my appointment book when I returned and my heart sank. My last cut wasn’t until eight o’clock, and it was with Gary Eisler.

Gary was the epitome of everything I lusted for. He was handsome in a dark and broody way, and he dressed impeccably. I’m twenty-eight, and he was probably five years older. He radiated self-confidence, and he was so sure of himself and the way he looked that he spent most of the time in my chair with his eyes closed.

He wasn’t big on small talk. He’d come in and say hello, sit in the chair and say, “You know what to do.” Then he’d slip into some kind of meditative state, not opening up until I said he was all done.

Then he’d stand up, take one look in the mirror and pronounce me a genius. Then he’d pay, tip me, and leave.

I never had the chance to flirt with him. I had no idea what he did for a living, or whether he had a boyfriend or a partner. I knew he was gay—no straight guy is that precise in his dress, and few straight guys have such an elegant manicure.

I admit, I had a hopeless crush on Gary Eisler. And having to deal with him on Valentine’s Day was almost more than I could handle.

But I soldiered on. The assistant manager of the electronics store next door came over for a trim on his meal break. “Business sucks today,” he complained. “We’ve got a special promotion on digital cameras and we’re not selling anything. It’s like nobody wants to memorialize their Valentine’s Day.”

I commiserated with him while I snipped his sleek black hair. The power flickered once, then again. “That’s probably because of us,” he said. “We have every outlet overloaded.”

Just before eight o’clock, I looked out at Washington Avenue and saw Gary approaching, his cell phone up to his ear. He wore his typical dark business suit and starched white shirt. Today’s tie was bright red, though thankfully free of hearts or cupids.

He walked into the salon still talking on the phone, and I pantomimed him over to my chair. “It’ll have to wait until tomorrow,” he said to his caller. “I’ll talk to you first thing.”

Then he shut the phone off and slid it into his jacket pocket. “Sorry, Ryan,” he said, as he sat down.

“No problem.”

“You know what to do.” He closed his eyes and I started by shaving the back of his neck.

Lora finished her last client and waved good-bye, so it was just me and Gary in the salon. I really wanted to talk to him, even if it was just to see if he felt as miserable about Valentine’s Day as I did.

But what if he didn’t? What if he was getting his hair cut in preparation for a special date with his boyfriend? Did I want to know that? And his body language so clearly said, Don’t bother me. So I restrained myself from chatter and snipped away.

As I was trimming around his right ear, the lights flickered. Then they went out for good. There was a low whirring sound as all the electronic stuff in the salon powered down.

Gary’s eyes popped open. “What happened?” he asked.

“Must be the guys next door. They’ve been overloading circuits all day.”

I left my chair and walked up to the front window. “Uh-oh. Unless they’ve knocked out the whole street it’s something more than that.”

He stood up and joined me at the window. “Even the street lamps are out,” he said. The only light was from the cars passing in front of the salon. “I guess I might as well go.”

“You can’t go now,” I protested. “Your hair’s only half cut.”

“But there’s no power.”

“I am a beauty school graduate. I can handle adversity. Back to your chair, mister.”


“Really.” I went into the back and grabbed a book of matches and a couple of candles we sometimes lit for atmosphere, and set them up on my table. They reflected against the mirror, giving my little corner a warm glow.

I picked up my scissors and began cutting again, moving Gary back and forth so I could see what I was doing in the candlelight.

“I’ve never had a haircut in the dark before,” he said.

“Funny. You keep your eyes closed the whole time you’re here.”

“Do I? I guess it’s because I feel so comfortable here.”

“Yeah. Either that or you have to shut out the tacky décor.” The salon owner was into New Age junk, so the walls were plastered with hippy-dippy artwork, all swirls and splashes of color, like someone threw up in a tie-dye shirt shop. Interspersed with the posters were pictures of hairstyles clipped from magazines, and, in Lora’s case, leopard-printed ribbons wrapped around her mirror.

“No, really. I’m so accustomed to taking charge in business that it’s nice to sit back and let someone else take over. Someone who’s so good at what he does.”

“You flatterer,” I said with a smile.

“Not me. I can’t make small talk. That’s another reason why I keep my eyes closed.”

“You’re doing just fine now.” I shifted his head so I could trim around his left ear.

“I never know what to say around handsome guys. I’m always afraid I’ll sound like a dork.”

He called me handsome, didn’t he? “There’s no art to it. Mostly the secret is in listening.”

“Then tell me something. I’ll listen.”

“I hate Valentine’s Day,” I said. “It seems like everyone else in the world has a sweetheart but me, someone to buy candy and flowers for.”

“It’s just one day,” Gary said. “It doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.”

“And if I had a man in my life the other 364 days I wouldn’t mind it. But I don’t.”

“I’m surprised. You’re such a nice guy.”

I faked a heart attack, clutching my chest and staggering backwards. “That’s the killer. Nobody wants to date a nice guy.”

“Some men do.”

I turned him to face the mirror. “All done,” I said. “How does it look?”

“I don’t know. I think you missed something. Right here.” He pointed toward his left ear, and I leaned in close.

Then he shifted slightly in the chair and his lips met mine.

It was just a light, feathery kiss, but it rocked my world. My heart raced and my lower lip quivered.

He pulled back. “Sorry. That was unprofessional,” he said.

“It was awesome.” I leaned down and kissed him again, and this time we both pressed our lips together. His were slightly chapped and his breath smelled minty fresh. I closed my eyes—not that it mattered much in the dim salon—and focused on kissing him.

He stood up, still wearing the cape, and wrapped his arms around me. I inhaled his cologne and the talcum powder I’d dusted on his neck. My dick swelled and pressed against my pants and I could feel him responding in the same way.

Then the power came back on, the harsh overhead fluorescents acting like an electric shock. We pulled apart, neither of us looking at the other.

“Let me get that cape off you,” I said, bustling around, replacing my tools on the counter, blowing out the candles. “Hopefully the credit card machine has come back to life, too.”

“Don’t worry about it.” He opened his wallet and pulled out a hundred-dollar bill. “Keep the change.”

He turned to walk out.

“That’s it?” I said. “Two kisses and a big tip?”

“I shouldn’t have done that.” He wouldn’t meet my eyes, as if he was embarrassed.

“Why not? Are you married?”

He shook his head.

“Partnered? Dating someone?”


“Then why the fuck not? You said you think I’m handsome, and I think you are, too, plus you’re a sweetheart. We’re both single on Valentine’s Day. Why shouldn’t we kiss? Hell, why shouldn’t we have sex if we want to?”

“You want to?”

“There’s a couch in the back.” I held my hand out.

He took my hand and I led him into the back room. There were no fluorescents there, just a single old lamp with a low wattage bulb. I turned it on, then pushed the extra rolls of toilet paper and the throw pillows off the old, worn couch. When I turned around he was already out of his suit jacket and tie.

From then on it was a race to see who could get naked first. I didn’t get the chance to admire Gary’s beefy musculature, nor show off my own swimmer’s build before we were skin to skin, kissing and biting each other, our hands roaming wild. He nibbled on my tits as I rubbed his back and kissed his shoulder blade, then he dropped to his knees and took me in his mouth.

With just a few licks of his tongue up my dick I was shivering, so I stepped back and pulled him up. “Not so fast,” I said. “I’ve been waiting for this for too long to have it go by so quickly.”

“You have?” he said. “I never would have…”

“Well, you did, and we have.” It was my turn to go down on him. He had a hefty dick and I had to work to get it all inside my mouth and down my throat.

“Oh, God,” he moaned. He sank back onto the sofa, then turned to lie there like an odalisque—a gorgeous, sexy, sweaty odalisque—with a trail of dark hair that ran down the middle of his chest, a stiff dick sticking up from a bush of pubic hair, and thick legs dusted with that same dark hair.

I didn’t need any instruction; I mounted him with my mouth at his dick and my dick at his face, and we began sucking each other in earnest. I rested my hands on his broad thighs, and as he stuck one finger up my ass, I underwent my own power surge as the orgasm rippled through me. I could barely moan over the huge piece of meat in my mouth, but it didn’t matter because he was coming too, shooting off white ribbons that dripped out of the side of my mouth.

I was straddling him on the sofa, and I tried to get up, but he pressed down on my butt. “Stay where you are. Please.”

That didn’t bother me. I shifted a little so my head was resting on his thigh and my dick was against his shoulder. We rested like that for a few minutes, and then I sat up, and shifted his legs toward the floor so we were sitting next to each other.

“So,” I said.

“So.” He hesitated. “I’m sorry. I’ve never done anything like that before. I don’t know what comes next.” He turned to face me. “I don’t want this to be some kind of – I don’t know – no strings attached quick fuck. I like you too much. And I love the way you cut my hair.”

“How can you like me, Gary? You never even talk to me.”

“I close my eyes because I like to think about you touching me. You have the gentlest hands.” He looked down at where his dick was stiffening again. “Even thinking about you gets me hard. You never noticed?”

“You’re covered with a big old cape,” I said. “I’m noticing now, though.” I reached over and rested my hand lightly on his thigh.

Then ABBA began to sing.

For a moment I thought I was having an out-of-body experience. Then I realized it was just his cell phone, trilling “Mamma Mia.”

He looked abashed. “Sorry. I have to take this.” He stood up and bent over to where he’d dropped his suit jacket, and I had an excellent view of his very succulent ass; a pair of round melons covered in a silky fuzz, with a darker trail that led right to his puckered hole.

“Can I…?” he asked me.

It took me a second to realize. “Sure.” I stood up and grabbed my clothes, then walked into the tiny bathroom and shut the door behind me.

So much for that, I thought. There was Gary’s booty call from some ABBA-loving queen who was waiting to celebrate Valentine’s Day with him. I cleaned myself up and pulled my clothes on. As I was buttoning my shirt, I heard Gary say, “Ryan?”

I opened the door and stepped back out into the back room. He had pulled on his boxer briefs and his slacks. “It didn’t feel right talking to my mother naked,” he said.

“That was your mother?”

He nodded. “After my dad left her for a pharmaceutical rep who sold more than just medication, she dumped the house in Massachusetts and moved to Boca. She’s pretty sour on romance so I was worried she would be upset by Valentine’s Day.”

I nodded. That just confirmed what a sweet guy Gary was. “Yeah, I can see how she’d be bummed.”

“Fortunately she wasn’t too bad. She bought herself a big box of Godiva and tuned into some old movies.”

We stood there awkwardly for a moment. “Well, I should close up the shop,” I said.

He nodded. Whatever moment we’d had was gone.

I left him in the back room and went out front. I closed out the cash register, turned off the individual lights at the stations and locked the door. When I turned around, Gary was standing there.

“Can I buy you dinner?” he asked.

I hesitated. He was just too good to be true. He was handsome and sweet and solid. There had to be something wrong with him.

His phone rang again. This time he made no apology. He picked it up and said, “Mom, I’m on a date. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” Then he hung up. “You’re not going to make a liar of me to my mom, are you?”

“I couldn’t do that.”

The evening was warm, and a layer of clouds blocked the stars. But with all the neon around us we wouldn’t have been able to see any of them anyway. We walked up to Lincoln Road, which was crowded with couples, gay and straight. It seemed like everyone was holding hands so I reached out for Gary’s.

He looked at me and smiled. Then he squeezed my hand in his and said, “This isn’t usually the way I do things, you know. Generally I buy a guy dinner before I have sex with him.”

“We can still have sex after dinner. As a matter of fact, I’m hoping we will. You were already up for round two back at the salon.”

He stopped in front of an Italian restaurant about halfway down the block, decked out in full Valentine’s regalia. “You up for this?” he asked. “All the hearts and flowers? I know you said you hate Valentine’s Day.”

“That was before tonight,” I said. “My new resolution? I’m going to make every day into Valentine’s from now on. Or at least for as long as you’re standing by my side.”

“It’ll be just like any other day.” He squeezed my hand again and opened the restaurant door for me and I walked through to the start of the next part of my life.


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