About Me

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D. H. Starr is a clean-cut guy with a wickedly naughty mind. He grew up in Boston and loves the city for its history and beauty. Also, having lived in NYC, he enjoys the fast pace and the availability of anything and everything. He first became interested in reading from his mother who always had a stack of books piled next to her bed. Family is important to D. H. and his stories center around the intricate and complex dynamics of relationships and working through problems while maintaining respect and love. His favorite books tend to fall in the genres of science fiction, fantasy, paranormal, and coming of age. To learn more about D. H. Starr and his books, please visit his website at www.dhstarr.com if you are 18+. To view his young adult work and resources, visit www.dhstarrYAbooks.com.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Perfect For Me - Chapter 2


Chapter 2

Sean hurried down the street, using his umbrella more as a shield against the horizontal onslaught of rain. With the wind and the sudden downpour which decided to occur right after he’d found a parking space, there were more areas of his body getting wet than remaining dry.

Coming to a skidding halt on the polished linoleum floor of his middle school lobby in the Bronx where he worked, Sean closed his umbrella, watching the multiple droplets of water form a small pool on the floor. Better get Chuck to mop that up before the teachers arrive. Last thing I need is someone to slip and hurt themselves. The way his luck had been running since his evening with Jerry two nights earlier, a fall would most likely result in a work-related injury the outcome of which would be a gaping hole in his teaching staff as someone took a long-term disability leave to “recover”.

It wasn’t until he was surrounded by the familiar pictures, books, and his ever present stack of observation reports, letters, and professional development plans which required his feedback that Sean felt any sense of normalcy. His suit coat, placed carefully on a hanger, was nearly soaked through. Small patches of his shirt were also wet. Luckily he wasn’t wearing white otherwise his skin would’ve shown through the material. At least his pants were dry, only the bottom part having been exposed to the rain.  Without a change of clothing, he’d just have to deal with it.

As he flipped on his laptop and his email screen appeared, Sean scrolled through the list of new messages, the tension in his shoulders slowly seeping away. Whatever else was going on in Sean’s life, he could always count on work to ground him. 

There was nothing of tremendous importance in his inbox and Sean wasn’t ready to tackle the paperwork. Standing, he raised his arms above his head and stretched, allowing even more tension to edge its way out of his body. Strolling casually to his credenza, he ran his hand along the worn spines of his favorite educational books. Dewey, Gardner, Burns, Routman, greats in the educational field. 

But it was the collection of quotes which he finally picked up, the one with the lettering nearly completely faded, smudged pages, and hundreds of dog-eared corners. This particular book he’d received as a gift from his grandfather. He’d brought it with him when he served in Korea. “The words in this book reminded me why I was there,” he’d said. Even after his grandfather had passed, the saying helped Sean to feel like the man was always with him; still his guide and mentor. 

He flipped the book open and it fell to the page with the quote he read at the beginning of each day. “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow; it empties today of its strength.“ - Corrie Ten Boom. 

He’d lived the truth of those words day in and day out, year after year, as students came and went from his school. 

Middle school was a hard enough time in a person’s life, but to experience adolescence in an environment filled with drugs, abuse, and gangs, his work took on new levels of importance. He could worry about each student every day, but then he’d become paralyzed, incapable of making any choices, let alone the right ones. Something in him, nothing he could point to or name, just a natural talent genetically imprinted in his core, gave him the ability to strike the balance with his kids so he could maintain objectivity; could make a real difference. 

Sean ran his finger over the quote on the page, worn from frequent touches, yet the words could vanish completely and he’d know each one. Maybe his ability to think objectively, to remain rational in the face of chaos, was more than a professional calling. He’d reacted the same way when he’d tested positive for HIV.

He replaced the book, pushing such thoughts from his mind. There were far too many things requiring his immediate attention. There was no room to harp on mistakes he’d made in the past even though they continued to impact his present and future.

About to tackle the pile on his desk, Sean was saved by the phone. A double ring. Hmmm. It’s an external call. He glanced at his watch. It was only six forty-five. Teacher and student absences were routed to the outside office phones, not his personal line. A call at this time of the morning equaled something bad.

With a heavy sigh, Sean skidded across the room to the phone. Picking up on the fourth or fifth ring, he made a mental note to ask his secretary to have his calls forwarded to message after two rings. “Hello. This is Principal Sullivan.”

“Good morning, Sean. It’s Margo Brown.” Her voice, normally bubbly, was clipped and formal. “How are you this morning?”

What the hell is the Superintendent calling me at this hour? “I’m fine Margo. What can I do for you?”
“My office received a call from precinct thirty-seven, domestic violence case, it involves one of your students.”

Sean heard Corrie Ten Boom telling him to fill today with strength. He’d received numerous calls such as the current one, but something about this call felt off. Bracing himself, he ventured the one question he needed answered. 


“Lamar.” The gravity in her suggested she understood the internal reaction Sean was currently experiencing. His heart leapt to his throat and he fell back, gripping the chair just before he fell to the floor.
Lamar. His favorite. The diamond in a mountain of rough.

“Was he arrested?” In a community where arrests were the norm, a student spending time behind bars served more as a badge than an embarrassment.

“No, no. The father was arrested.” A silence filled him as he waited for the superintendent to continue. So far this sounds pretty standard, so why the early call and the urgency of the voice? “The boy was hospitalized. He won’t be in today, but you’ll need a plan for when he returns.”

Shit! Counseling kids off drugs, away from drinking, helping them to resolve conflicts without violence, even talking to them about the pressures of joining gangs; these were things he could handle. 

Having a kid hospitalized, on the other hand, stole from Sean’s resilience, chipping at his sense of control from the outside in. The fact it was Lamar,  a soft spoken, smart, beautiful young man ripped at Sean’s guts and for a moment he thought he might puke, but the sensation passed after a few deep breaths. The kid was thirteen-going-on-twenty. He exuded kindness. He had skin the color of coffee and cream, round brown eyes,  and a lanky body which was somehow sturdy at the same time. Lamar was someone who could go far if given the right supports along the way. 

And, Sean suspected, Lamar was probably gay. Lamar wasn’t overly social, having a small group of friends, most of whom were girls. He’d often take his lunch back to his classroom, helping his teachers organize their rooms or prepare for their next class. 

There’d been a rumor a few months earlier that he’d kissed a boy, but rumors weren’t worth attention unless students began to talk and ridicule. Still, Sean kept an eye on the kid. Made a point of greeting him in the hallway, checking in on how he was doing in his classes and how things were going at home.

To picture this child, the sweet, unassuming student, in a hospital as a result of domestic violence was not something Sean was prepared to handle. Yet prepared or not, he had never let a student down and wouldn’t start today.

“Tell me what you know.”

Margo continued with an even and understanding tone despite the fact she’d just waited through several seconds of silence. “I don’t know anything other than what I’ve told you. Like I said, it was a message. We haven’t reached the mother yet. But I think you might have an idea why your eighth grade student may have received a beating from his father.”

Ice shot through Sean’s system, starting in his heart and radiating outwards, like little shards were bounding inside his veins. “Because he’s gay.”

“I don’t know. But I’ve contacted Child Services and a case worker will meet with you today. If your suspicions about this student are correct and this domestic dispute is related to sexuality, you’ll need the extra support.”

A hint of defensiveness flashed in Sean’s mind. He was perfectly capable of handling the situation. But the thought vanished as quickly as it’d come. This isn’t about you. It’s about a scared, hurt boy.

“I think that’s a great idea, Marge. Do you know when I should expect a visit?” 

“First thing.” Sean looked at his watch once again, as if it held the answers to all of his questions. “He’s a great guy and really good. I know this boy is special to you, and Emery Benton will help you help Lamar.”

That one comment was why Sean loved what he did. He worked with a woman who supervised about a hundred and thirty schools in the geographically poorest urban district in the country and still knew a specific student was special to him. “Thanks Marge, I’m looking forward to meeting him.”

“Good luck.” Her voice had returned to its normal tone. “Keep me posted on this one.”

“Will do.” Sean hung up the phone then lifted his hands to his face and rubbed vigorously. “Shit.” He’d kept his voice quiet, measured, but his mind was racing. A picture of Lamar, unconscious, in a hospital bed, ripped at his nerves. As much as he helped his kids make the right choices, he had no control over the choices other people made. This came close to his worst nightmare coming true. 

Sean closed his eyes and took several deep breaths through his nose, releasing them evenly through an open mouth. With each breath, Sean focused inward, gently urging his body to relax and release. After ten breaths he was able to regain some measure of balance.

There was no use overthinking the situation until he had information. All he knew was Lamar’s father was arrested, Lamar was in the hospital, and whatever happened was being labeled domestic violence. That didn’t mean Lamar was the victim of a homophobic hate crime. 

Turning to the stack of papers, Sean took the first one into his hands. An unsatisfactory rating for a senior teacher. The union’s gonna have a field day with this. He skimmed through the report, attempting to convince himself he’d actually pushed Lamar from his mind and moved on to other responsibilities. 

After reading the first sentence for the third time, he had to submit to the truth. He wasn’t going to be able to focus until he found out what happened and formed a plan. Evaluations, letters and professional development took a back seat to his students, and right now Lamar needed his full attention.

Fill today with strength. From your mouth to God’s ears Corrie.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Perfect For Me - release on Friday 2-28

Chapter 1

The music from the jukebox was currently playing a remix of Don’t Stop Believin’, one of Sean’s favorite songs from his youth. His pleasure must have shown based on the smile which crept across his date’s perfectly sculpted face. Cheekbones rose to impossible heights as plump lips curved upwards, revealing gleaming white teeth. “You like this song, don’t you?”

Nodding his head to the beat, Sean couldn't help the flood of memories from a time when his life had been far simpler. “I do. How could you tell?”

Jerry edged closer to Sean, placing his hand on the wall the two were leaning against. The fresh scent of his favorite cologne, Banana Republic’s Classic, filled Sean’s nose, sending his mood flying. “It’s pretty obvious.” Jerry’s mouth pulled into a seductive grin. “When the song came on it was the first time I saw that incredibly sexy dimple.” Jerry leaned in and kissed Sean’s cheek, presumably where the dimple was located. “Everything about you is sexy.”

A simple “Thank you” was all Sean could manage as heat radiated from his core straight to his cheek where Jerry had just kissed him. He took a moment to thank his maker for the dim lighting in the bar, hiding what had to be fully flushed cheeks, then appraised the man standing before him. Not quite as tall as Sean’s six-foot-two, the man was nothing to laugh at. He had to be at least six feet, broad at the shoulders, trim at the waist. He wore casual, loose-fitting clothes, igniting Sean’s curiosity about the treasures hidden beneath. “You’re not so bad yourself.”

Jerry dismissed Sean’s comment with a wave of his hand. “Please. Next to you, I’m an average Joe. Look at you. Your shoulders and arms are practically ripping the fabric of your shirt.” As if to prove a point, Jerry slipped a finger under the rim of Sean’s white T-shirt sleeve, fondling the swollen bicep. Sean couldn’t help but smile noticing he had to work his finger under the fabric. Big fingers. That’s promising.

Slinking closer, Jerry removed his hand from Sean’s arm and placed both on Sean’s chest. He leaned in, breath sweet with a hint of lime—most likely due to the fruit Jerry had placed in his Corona . In the softest of whispers, he answered. “Because, each time you lift your arm or bend over to pick something up, I get a glance at your waist and there’s no tan line.” Jerry slinked a bit closer. “I also noticed you’re going commando. Is that usual or something special for tonight?”

It took a moment for the question to fully register, but when it did, electricity prickled along Sean’s skin and down his spine, travelling at lightning speed to his cock. While his member came to life, trying to introduce itself to a new friend, Sean shifted back and forth on his feet, unsure how to respond. “Um…I…”

Jerry’s head tilted back as he emitted a chuckle. “I embarrassed you. That’s awesome.”

The heat which had rushed to Sean’s face intensified as he tried to determine whether being embarrassed was awesome good or awesome bad. So far, all of Jerry’s signals were indicating it was awesome good. Let’s go with that. “Okay, so you figured out one of my secrets. I go commando.”

The smile from Jerry’s face lingered, then faded slowly, replaced by a far more serious expression. As if in slow motion, Jerry drew closer to Sean, mouth parting ever so slightly. Drawn by an unspoken demand, Sean leaned in, his lips pressing into the full softness of Jerry’s.

The kiss was enhanced by the soothing feel of Jerry’s fingers brushing through the hair at the back of Sean’s scalp, drawing him in closer.

Opening to Jerry’s demanding mouth, Sean allowed the fresh tastes to enter and fill him. Clean, with a slight hint of Corona, Jerry tasted better than the dinner Sean had eaten. The soft lips did little to buffer the ferocity of need as Jerry’s tongue laved Sean’s, tumbling in circles.

Sean dropped his hands to Jerry’s waist and drew the beautiful man nearer, reveling in the feel of the hard length of Jerry’s cock pressing against his own straining member. The rest of the world melted away, the music, the chatter and laughter of the people at the bar, the lights. Only he and Jerry existed, connected in a kiss filled with the promise of something more; something great.

When Jerry retreated from the kiss, the world caught up to Sean in an instant, disorienting him. Jerry’s voice grounded him. “Whoa. You’re one hell of a kisser.” The words only fueled Sean’s desire to touch him again. Leaning in, he stole a few more kisses, tamer, gentler ones, but wet and intoxicating.

“Yeah.” Sean shook his head to clear the fuzziness. “Kissing is my favorite thing to do.”

A curious brow lifted seductively on Jerry’s face as he assessed Sean. “It’s your favorite thing to do?”

He was about to answer honestly, stating he actually did, in fact, find kissing to be the most intimate experience two people could share. One look at Jerry’s lust-filled expression caused Sean to reconsider the wisdom of that decision. Besides, there was a major obstacle he had to hurdle before he shared anything else.

His throat constricted and the pleasant hum of the conversations surrounding them dulled as blood forced its way through capillaries in his ears. Each beat of his heart forced more adrenaline into his system, stimulating the inevitable fight or flight response. The fact he’d promised himself he’d always fight didn't make what needed to be said any easier.

Once his initial terror eased and his eyes were able to focus once again, Sean was confronted with the same expression he’d seen dozens of times before. The plump lips were drawn tight and a slight wrinkle between Jerry’s eyes indicated he hadn't missed Sean’s pause. “Are you okay? You were a million miles away.”

Drawing stale air into his lungs, not even the ironic lyrics of Diana Ross’s I’m Coming Out blaring through the bar provided comfort or courage. “I’m fine, but before we take this any further, there’s something you should know.”

Sweat dampened Sean’s palms and he ran them along his shirt to dry them. Swallowing on a mouth which had suddenly run dry, he took a large gulp of the dirty martini he’d been nursing. Staring Jerry directly in his deep brown eyes, Sean steeled himself, hoping for the best but preparing for what usually happened. “I’m HIV positive.”

On a mental countdown from five, Sean watched the transformation take place. He could always tell within the first few seconds what kind of reaction to brace himself for. The initial draining of color from Jerry’s face was expected, as was the involuntary step back. To his credit, Jerry didn't behave like an ignorant ass, worrying the kiss they’d just shared put him at risk.

At Jerry’s first words, Sean knew how the scene would play out. “Oh. I had no idea.”

Of course you didn't. We don’t wear a membership badge.

“You look so healthy.”

Newsflash. I’m probably healthier than you.

Jerry glanced to his right and left, then faced Sean once again. On his next words, he failed to lift his head high enough to make eye contact. “Um. I forgot. I have an early morning tomorrow. But I had a great time tonight. You’re a nice guy. I’ll call you.”

Sean bit his lower lip, holding in the words releasing Jerry from any further obligation. Jerry leaned in stiffly and kissed Sean on the cheek, the stark difference from the first kiss he’d planted in that same spot was shocking even to Sean. Without another word, Jerry turned and headed towards the exit. Sean took a moment to appreciate the retreating figure, admiring how the body moved underneath the clothing. Would’ve been nice.

Once the door closed on the vision of yet another failed date, Sean brought his drink to his mouth, downing the rest of the contents in one huge gulp. The burn of the liquid as it slid down his esophagus and into his stomach eased his nerves. Sean pushed away from the wall and worked his way outside into the warm spring New York City night.

The crowd of bar-goers gathered around the entrance of the Boiler Room stopped their conversations when he exited, mouths slightly ajar and gazes following his movements. He could practically feel several sets of eyes boring into him. It was always the same. Men were always interested, but as soon as his secret was out, none of that mattered.

Turning the corner onto Avenue A helped to provide some distance between himself and the immediacy of his disappointment. Still, his feet trod heavily on the pavement as he worked his way north towards his apartment on Twelfth. 

For a fleeting moment, he imagined an entirely different walk home. One where Jerry didn’t run. Where they stumbled home holding hands, stopping  frequently to enjoy languorous kisses.  And then, once they finally managed to make it to his apartment on the third floor… Stop. This isn’t helping you.

Picking up his pace, Sean tried to burn off the rising emotions within, disappointment rapidly shifting to anger. But even that seemed to fizzle too soon, leaving him with the familiar sensation of emptiness. By the time he actually reached his apartment building, he was no longer staring in front of him, but at his feet, watching the pavement pass by.

Climbing the stairs, the weight of the evening seemed to crush down upon him. Trudging along the hallway felt more like a prison march and his apartment was his cell where he served a sentence of solitude.

Sean tossed his keys on the table next to the door. The satisfying clank of metal hitting wood helped to jar his attention from the somber, self-pitying thoughts in his mind. A shower. That’s what I need. A nice hot shower and then sleep.

Dragging his shirt over his head, Sean stretched his tense muscles. He clasped his hand and leaned first to one side, then to the other, the pull of his lats as they extended to their full limit a perfect combination of pleasure and pain. Unbuttoning his pants, he was about to strip, leaving his clothing in a mound on the living room floor, when he noticed the blinking red light on his answering machine.

He pressed the play button and after a moment was listening to his sister’s voice. “Hey, big brother. I know you’re on a date tonight and if you’re listening to this, you’re probably alone. On the off chance you’re an idiot and listening to messages with a hot guy in your apartment, congrats. But if you are alone, call me, no matter what time it is. I’m dying to find out how things went.”

Sean snickered half-heartedly. Jen knew him too well. Glancing at the time, eleven thirty-seven, the kids would have been in bed for nearly three hours by now, so Sean called his sister’s cell rather than risk waking his niece and nephew. The phone only rang once before she picked up. “It didn’t work out?”

Nothing like getting right to the point. “Well, since you know I’m not an idiot, as you so eloquently stated on the machine, if I was with someone I wouldn’t be calling you, would I?”

Ignoring his sarcasm, Jen spoke in a soothing tone, helping to thaw the ice surrounding his wounded heart. “I’m so sorry, sweetie. You were excited about this guy too.”

All of the fight ran out of Sean’s body, leaving him limp and exhausted. Falling onto the couch, he propped his feet on the coffee table and leaned his head back so he faced the ceiling. “I was.”

Silence stretched out between them as Sean waited to hear the words of wisdom his sister might impart. When none came, he remembered the last time she’d tried to console him and the way he’d mercilessly bitten her head off. Smart woman. “But I must be insane to think that someone like Jerry would want someone like me.”

“What the fuck do you mean by that? You know I hate hearing you talk like that.”

“It’s true though. Why would a smart, handsome, educated man want to be with someone like me when he could find someone else who’s everything I am, and not diseased.”

The pause on the other end of the line carried an electric charge, raising the hairs on the back of Sean’s neck. When Jen spoke, he knew better than to interrupt. “Sean Thomas Sullivan. I’m going to hang up right now if you’re going to continue the pity party. You’re an incredible man and anyone would be lucky to have you. The things you say. I swear, if Mom were still around, she’d kick your ass.”

A sigh escaped from deep within Sean’s chest, relieving the tension which had been trapped there. “I guess. But it’s the same story time and again. I’m thirty-three. I love my job. I love my family. I love where I live. But I can’t seem to complete the picture of the life I want. How else am I supposed to view myself except as damaged goods when each date ends the same way?”

Jen’s voice carried a nurturing softness. The same tone she used when her kids were scared or upset. “Sean. You’re a good man, an unbelievable brother, the world’s best uncle, and an incredible catch. There’s a guy out there who will see all of that and will love you for it.”

Sean was about to protest once again, but his sister cut him off before he could get a word in. “And don’t give me the ‘everyone says that’ crap.”

He couldn't help but laugh. “How’d you know what I was going to say?”

“Because I’m your sister and your best friend. I know you and I know you deserve to be happy.” The words rang with confidence, causing a lump to form in Sean’s throat and a burn to sting his eyes. Knowing his emotions would sound if he attempted to speak, he remained silent. In a voice as sweet and settling as hot tea after dinner, his sister continued. “Take a shower. Focus on the hot water hitting your body. Then crawl into bed and get a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow’s a new day and you’ll tackle it with pride like you always do.”

Through a strained set of vocal chords, Sean managed to eke out a “Thanks, Jen. I love you”, before hanging up. Obeying her orders, he climbed into the shower and allowed the heat of the water to penetrate through his tension, washing away some of his frustration. Rationally, he knew his sister was right, but that didn't make rejection feel any better.

Settled between a pair of crisp, cotton sheets, freshly changed, sleep eluded him. Memories of kissing Jerry, and the many other Jerrys, nagged at him. Was it too much to hope to have someone in his bed, someone to build a life with? Were it not for his serostatus he’d probably be married by now. With effort, he shunted the thoughts aside. No sense dwelling on what’s past. Self-pity had never been Sean’s way and he wasn't about to start now. 

His friends had been pushing him to try the dating sites on the web. So far he’d avoided them, feeling they lacked the organic chemistry of meeting people in person. Still, he’d read somewhere that twenty percent of all couples met online. Plus, there were sites specifically catering to HIV positive people. 

With a plan in place, Sean flipped his pillow, allowing the cool fabric to soothe him. As his lids became heavier and his limbs went slack, his sister’s words echoed in his head. 

Tomorrow’s a new day, she’d said. Still, doubt plagued him. The last thing he remembered before succumbing to sleep was, New day, but why should I expect different results?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Teaser from my upcoming release

Teaser from my upcoming release, Perfect For Me, MLR Press.

Emery started moving about the kitchen quickly but with purpose, and within five minutes the garlic was sautéing in olive oil in a skillet, a pot of water was heating on the stove top, the chicken was washed and dredged in flour and several other ingredients had been laid on the counter top for later use.

Sean sat in a chair by the kitchen table and watched, impressed by Emery’s concentration. Once the chicken was placed onto the pan, Emery turned to face Sean. “Why’d you come visit me at my work today? Not that I’m complaining, but I thought I’d have to work a lot harder at convincing you to give us a real shot.”
It wasn't the question Sean expected. “You want the truth?”


“I forced myself.” Heat flooded his cheeks at the boldness of his admission.

“Pardon me?” Emery stood, tongs in hand, facing Sean.

“Dating is like going to the gym for me. The first few times I go I try to come up with any excuse not to. It’s uncomfortable and I worry about the pain. But in my head I know it’s good for me so I make myself do it. Eventually, I look forward to workouts.”

Although the analogy was perfectly clear in his own mind, the blank expression on Emery’s face suggested he didn't share the same clarity on the topic. “Let me explain better.” He searched inward, trying to identify what he’d felt prior to hopping in his car and driving to Emery’s work. Panic and excitement.

Emery continued to wait, ignoring the cooking chicken. Sean stood and took the tongs from him, walking to the stove top and flipping the chicken breasts. “Well, you already knew I was worried about starting something up because we work together. That alone is something my dad always warned me about. I believe his exact words were ‘Don’t shit where you eat’. So I was already breaking one rule. And then I shared the fact I’m positive with you, someone who I have professional contact with, which is something I've never done before. So that was a second rule I broke. And somehow the combination of both those broken rules felt like I was breaking a third rule which was never break rules number one and two.”

The explanation was lame and Sean knew it, but Emery seemed to soften. “Alright. But that doesn't explain why you chose to come to my work.” Sean grabbed the cutting board and the knife he had been using and walked to the portion of the counter where the potatoes were sitting in a plastic bag. He began quartering them as he continued.

“Do you have a platter for the finished chicken while I put fresh pieces into the oil?” Emery handed him a plate and Sean removed the fried breasts and placed new chicken in the pan. “The bottom line is I don’t like taking risks which could result in major problems for me. This, what we’re doing, is one of those risks and my head is telling me to run. But my heart, or maybe it’s my gut, but something inside that isn't attached to my rational thoughts is telling me this could be something amazing. So I hopped in my car and drove over and waited until you came out of the building. Each time I thought about changing my mind, I pictured the two of us on the bridge and it helped maintain my resolve.”

Emery checked the pot on the stove top, nodded, then dropped the cut potatoes into the boiling water. “So let me get this straight. If I’m catching your analogy, dating me is like going to the gym?”

Since Emery was now standing next to him, Sean gave him a nudge with his shoulder. “Something like that.”

Silence settled between them. Not an uncomfortable silence filled with tension, but a natural one. The only sounds in the kitchen were those of chopping, sizzling, or the whir of the microwave as Emery melted together butter and cut chives along with a couple tablespoons of minced garlic he’d set aside. Once all the chicken had been fried, Emery placed the pieces back into the skillet and poured a bottle of Marsala wine and freshly diced shitake and baby portabella mushrooms into the mix. He then covered the dish and placed it into the oven.

Grabbing two wine glasses from the cabinet, he offered one to Sean. “I bought a few bottles of Berenger reserve Cabernet from the private collection a few years back when I went to Sonoma. It’s the best wine I've ever had. Honestly, it’s worth another trip out there since it’s cheaper to buy at the vineyard.”

Sean wasn't one to turn away a glass of wine, but he’d done his fair share of wine tasting and private reserve bottles tended to be pricey. “Are you sure you want to waste a bottle on a dinner?”

Emery stopped his movements and faced Sean, capturing him in an unwavering stare. “I don’t want you to ever question your worth when you’re with me. If I say I want to break out the good stuff, it’s because I want to break out the good stuff. The fact you’re willing to give this a shot, willing to push yourself out of your comfort zone, it’s better than I dared hope for and I think it’s cause for celebration.”

Sean raised his hands up in mock surrender. “Okay, okay. Remind me never to question you again.”

Emery’s mood softened as he rummaged through a drawer and procured a corkscrew. “Good. So long as that’s squared away we shouldn't have any problems.” A hint of a smile crept into place on Emery’s face, setting Sean at ease.

A glass of wine later, which really was one of the smoothest and cleanest glasses Sean had drunk in a long time, and the kitchen had filled with the smells of their dinner. Emery pulled the chicken out of the oven and the scent of garlic, Marsala, and mushrooms intensified. He set it on the counter top and then drained the potatoes, returning them immediately to the pot from without rinsing them. The butter/chive/garlic concoction was added to the potatoes along with a dash of salt and pepper, about a quarter cup of milk, and two heaping tablespoons of sour cream.

By the time all was plated and set on the table, Sean’s mouth was watering. For the next ten minutes all that could be heard in the room was the clink of utensils on ceramic. When Sean finally came up for air, his stomach was full and his body utterly relaxed. “Well. I can honestly say I haven’t had a meal like that since the last time I went home to Massachusetts. And I definitely don’t get the treat of the pre-dinner festivities when I’m home.”

Emery placed an exaggerated look of horror on his face. “I hope not.” He stood, taking his plate with him. “Would you like some more?”

Sean shook his head. “ Couldn't fit another bite in. If we keep eating like this I’m gonna have to go to the gym daily instead of three times a week.”