A few weeks back, I introduced you to Talib Eldrige, a two hundred year old vampire. Now meet the other protagonist of my upcoming novel, Feed, Prey, Love. Conley is a sweet, understated guy who's uber hot and a bit geeky.
Conley Berillo stared at his computer in the billing department of Miriam Hospital. His isolated, windowless cubicle was squeezed into a forgotten corner of the basement, just the way he liked it. The person utilizing the adjoining cubicle was threat enough to his solitude. While most of his co-workers bitched about the job, the depressing room, their lives, Conley was content to remain in his private little hole, away from roving eyes and unwanted attention.
His fingers danced over the number pad to the right side of the keyboard. The rapid clicking on the keys sounded like the patter of rain on a roof during a thunderstorm. He didn’t need to look at his fingers or the screen to know he input the data accurately. This was his ideal job. Consistent, familiar, predictable. A new stack of bills each day.
Listening to the steady tap of his fingers, the numbers streaming in orange across the old DOS system, Conley calmly settled into his seat. He didn’t need or want to be creative. Creativity was for people who wanted to be noticed. His whole life, he maintained a low profile.
Images from his childhood crept into his wandering mind. Recollections of an awkward, pale, wiry, boy. The last one picked for games. Never invited to parties. His only friends the characters in the books he loved to read.
Finding the hidden stack of his mother’s Playgirl magazines provided the first clue to his primary difference. The barely-clothed men on the covers captured his attention and he couldn’t resist opening one magazine to look inside. The sight of the tanned, muscled men, erections arching along their bellies, drew him in as if inviting his eyes to absorb every vein. The ridge which separated the shaft from the inflamed glans evoked longings he didn’t understand. He had been eleven at the time and spent countless days in his mother’s closet when she was still at work, masturbating to those beautiful men, fantasizing what he might do if only they were real and there with him.
In high school, rather than join the relatively active GLBT club, he retreated deeper into his own shell. He didn’t fear rejection, fairly certain he would be, but something inside grew uncomfortable around others. Even in college, where being gay was not only accepted, but seemed to be popular, he still couldn’t bring himself to join with the community. Like oil and water, they mixed together, but never truly combined.
His few sexual experiences had occurred after dorm parties. All involving him on his knees blowing a guy, but never receiving a blowjob in return. He hadn’t even kissed anyone before. Instead, he had come to expect physical contact to be sporadic, followed by proclamations of how fuckin’ wasted the guys were afterwards. The boys never talked to him when he saw them around campus, not even glancing in his direction as they passed by.
Everything in his life screamed “different”, “outsider”, “you don’t belong”. And he accepted it with little resistance.
Turning back to the mound of papers in front of him, Conley sighed and continued punching in code. A hint of heaviness settled in his chest, the thoughts of his youth and his loneliness like a vise creating an uncomfortable pressure he couldn’t seem to escape. Before he had a chance to obsess, his phone rang, causing him to jump. The double-ring meant it was an external call. Only one person would call me at work.
A brief smile crossed his lips as he picked up the phone. “Hi, Purvis.”
“How’d you know it was me? Never mind. You got a minute to talk?”
Conley considered whether to be truthful before answering. Purvis was his first, well, to be honest, his only real friend. Still, ever since he had moved into Whispering Hills, something inside him had begun to bloom. The presence of paranormal creatures opened him up. He had never questioned why he felt so awkward throughout his life; not until he lived with paranormals. They too seemed to live in isolation, outcasts like him, who didn’t really belong to the world they inhabited. Once he began to interact with the residents of Whispering Hills, the parallels between their existence and his own became obvious.
While most humans rejected paranormals—acknowledging they were real, but keeping them as far away from their lives as possible—Conley embraced them. He knew too well what it felt like to be ostracized and for the first time believed he belonged.
In fact, moving to Whispering Hills after college hadn’t been a choice. It had been a compulsion. The need to live with others like himself, people who existed alongside scrutinizing, hateful people following their every move, overpowered him. In the wonderful building at the top of the hill, diversity was embraced. Even the humans who lived there were more approachable, more open-minded and accepting of difference.
“Conley, you still there?” Purvis’s voice was light, a hint of a giggle coming through the phone.
“Yeah, sorry. I’ve got a few minutes. What’s up?” He held the phone tightly in his hand, bracing himself for what Purvis might say. If there was one thing he could count on about his friend, it was complete unpredictability.
“So, you know I’m throwing a party tonight and you’re going to be there.”
Purvis’s voice was even bubblier than usual, causing Conley’s smile to fade. The fairy was up to something.
“Please tell me this isn’t another one of your set-ups.” Conley didn’t know if he could handle another set-up. Not when Purvis was using his own Fairy Dust before playing matchmaker. It was as if every male in Providence became an Adonis as soon as Purvis used his dust. Unfortunately, Purvis’s lust-induced version of an Adonis usually translated into a sober person’s troll, literally.
“Don’t interrupt. And, since you are being such a prissy little—”
“Okay, sorry. Go on.” Conley rolled his eyes, well aware Purvis couldn’t see him do so.
“Much better.” The chipper tone returned. “To answer your question, yes, this is another set-up, but this time I know the guy will be perfect for you. I’m sure of it.”
“That’s what you said about the last guy. Remember, the lanky elf who wore make-up…sparkly make-up no less.” Conley appreciated his friend’s attempts to pair him off, but he preferred his men to be men.
“I’ll admit he was a poor choice on my part. I was thinking of my own tastes with him, but this one is different.” Something in Purvis’s voice changed. He sounded more serious, as if he were truly certain.
“Who is this perfect man you have lined up for me?” As much as he didn’t want to allow his hopes to rise.
“I’m not telling you. All you’ll do is create reasons why he isn’t good enough for you. Just remember to pick up some Nectar of the Valley when you get off work and bring it over to my place. I need about ten bottles. Actually, buy eleven. You and I can drink a bottle when you get here.” He paused., then, “Just make sure you dress hot!”
Before Conley could respond, the line went dead. Turning back to the stack of papers in front of him, he continued working. He’d sworn never to let Purvis push another man in his direction. But there had been something in Purvis’ tone…something…different this time. As he worked, he couldn’t help wondering about this mystery guy. Who would inspire such certainty in Purvis? Could it really be possible after all? As the hours passed, Conley’s anticipation of meeting someone new lifted the heaviness weighing him down before the call.