Beckett Gaines, a gay teen living in South Carolina, has his world turned upside-down by a jock in this laugh-out-loud novel that’s Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda meets The Parent Trap.
Beck: The Golden Girls-loving, out-and-proud choir nerd growing up in the “ass-crack of the Bible belt.”
Jax: The Golden Boy, star quarterback with a slick veneer facing uncomfortable truths about himself and his past.
When Beck’s emotionally fragile dad starts dating the recently single (and supposedly lesbian) mom of former bully, Jaxon Parker, Beck is not having it. Jax isn’t happy about the situation either, holding out hope that his moms will reunite and restore the only stable home he’s ever known. Putting aside past differences, the boys plot to derail the budding romance between their parents at their conservative hometown’s first-ever Rainbow Prom. Hearts will be broken, new romance will bloom, but nothing will go down the way Beck and Jax have planned.
In his hilarious and provocative debut, Greg Howard examines the challenges of growing up different in a small southern town through the lens of colorful and unforgettable characters who stay with you long after the last drop of sweet tea.
Beckett If I’d known losing my virginity would be so nerve-racking, I would’ve stayed home and watched the Golden Girls marathon with my dad. That’s some quality father-son time I’m missing right there. He even made a cheesecake. Instead, here I am, with my heart racing around in my chest like a horde of drag queens at a Filene’s Basement clearance sale.
Easing my death grip on the steering wheel, I lower the window a few inches. Magnolia-scented night air spills into the car accompanied by a sharp, underlying odor that singes my nostril hair. Magnolia-scented dog shit is more like it. But that’s what I get for choosing a city park as the setting for my transition from virginal gay ingenue to bossy power bottom.
I take a deep breath to calm my nerves, which only redirects my thoughts back to Dad. Even though we’ve already seen all 180 episodes at least five times each, he was visibly disappointed when I told him I had an audition for the Florence Community Playhouse production of Steel Magnolias. He didn’t even blink. I mean, come on. Any serious purveyor of American theater knows there are no male roles in that play. But not Dad. He’s a Rose—sweet and lovable, but not the sharpest tool in the shed. I, as Dad likes to remind me almost daily, am a Dorothy. Cranky, snarky, and a bit bossy. Or to use Dad’s word, “bitchy.” I prefer “responsible” and “pragmatic.” Besides, someone’s got to be the Dorothy. She’s the glue. And since Mom left us, that’s what I am to Dad—the last bit of glue holding his shattered world together.
I could’ve just told him about my plans tonight. It’s not like he would’ve tried to stop me. He might have pelted me with condoms as I ran serpentine patterns around the living room and out the front door. I can’t leave the house these days without him yelling, “Don’t forget your raincoat!” That’s what he calls them. I guess he assumes I’m a whore just because I’m queer, which is really gaycist of him. He means well. He’s just always been a little overenthusiastic when it comes to my gayness. Like he’s trying to march in two spots in the Pride parade of my life—his and Mom’s. However, I seriously doubt he would’ve approved of my partner-selection methods tonight.
But if I’m ever going to make the leap from exploratory, sexual toe dipping to bona fide slut, I have to spend time with people my own age. Hot, horny guys my own age, to be precise. Honestly, this isn’t exactly what I had in mind for my first time either. I’ve always fantasized about a hayloft on a humid summer afternoon—minus the mosquitoes and the stench of horseshit, of course.
I can visualize the whole thing so clearly. Somehow the hay is soft like Egyptian cotton and not prickly on my bare ass. My hot, imaginary farm boy lowers me down onto it—sweat glistening on his hairless, muscled chest. But he wouldn’t just screw me—not my sweet farm boy. No, my future husband, and the father of our adopted Cambodian twins, makes love to me slow and gentle in that hayloft. With my ankles locked around his neck, I wrap my arms around his thirty-two-inch waist and hold on for dear life as he expertly brings us to the most mind-blowing simultaneous climax in the history of gay sex. The image is so beautiful, it actually brings a tear to my eye.
But Shelby says I can kiss that fantasy good-bye. She says the first time is going to hurt like a motherfucker. That it’ll be awkward and messy, and that I’ll probably shoot my load within the first thirty seconds of penetration. According to Shelby, the first time is always a disaster. She convinced me that I need lots of practice before I become solid boyfriend material—a good senior year full of practice—so I can hit the ground running my freshman year of college. Shelby’s even the one who installed the Bangr app on my phone. She was more than a little shocked and disappointed that I’d never heard of it.
“It’s a hookup app for horny gays,” she said, incredulous, like she wanted to revoke my pink card right there on the spot. I don’t think Shelby has that kind of authority, but you never know with that girl.
“Hooking up with complete strangers?” I asked, clutching the invisible string of pearls around my neck. “How am I supposed to find a boyfriend like that?”
That’s what I really want. A boyfriend. I can’t help it. I’m an out gay, but a closet romantic. And I’m a little lonely, if I’m being honest. Dad and Shelby are great and all, but I want someone to hold me. To kiss me. To make googly eyes at me and do all that shit they do in the movies. And I definitely want that someone to have a penis. I was lucky enough to figure that out ages ago. I swear, I probably came out of my mom’s vagina wearing a tiara, swaddled in a rainbow flag, and belting out “It’s Raining Men” at the top of my gay baby lungs.
“You don’t want a boyfriend for your first time,” Shelby had scolded me. “Any nameless, faceless dick will do.”
Shelby’s my best friend and she usually knows about these kinds of things, so here I am. About to meet the nameless, faceless dick I found on Bangr last night. CockyInSC will have the distinct honor of being the first to enter my pearly gates. He seemed like as good a choice as any, but I can’t deny that a little hindsight apprehension is kicking in. Probably just nerves.
“Shake it off, girl,” I mutter, quoting the Dalai Lama of my generation.
At the end of the road I guide my Prius into the dimly lit parking lot by the duck pond. The gravel crunching under my tires is louder than the engine itself, otherwise I could have made a more ninja-like entrance. My headlights momentarily illuminate a half dozen or so vehicles, and a shiver of excitement runs the length of my body. I didn’t think it was possible for my nipples to get any harder, but they’re about to slice right through my cotton shirt. At least I’m not the only perv out tonight. There’s a small tribe of us and we’re all in this together, throwing caution and my virginity to the wind. But the imagined camaraderie does little to settle my nerves, or my nipples, as I ease down the row of cars.
Exhaling all of my Dorothy Zbornak anxiety out through my nostrils in one long, steady stream, I inhale and channel my inner Blanche Devereaux. Well, as much as any gay, seventeen-year-old boy can channel Blanche Devereaux. Which, now that I think about it, is actually quite a lot. The Dorothy side of my stomach is in knots. Like acid-reflux-inducing knots. The Blanche side of my stomach, however, flutters with what must be a swarm of horny-ass butterflies, finger-banging each other with their rock-hard taste receptors, because they haven’t settled down since I got into the car.
I scan each rear bumper in search of my mark. All the cars face the duck pond, with just enough space between each to provide adequate privacy. The steam of human sex tints the windows, and the dim glow of the streetlamps overhead enhances the seedy effect of the scene. It’s like a Motel 6 campground on the banks of Lake Semen. All that’s missing is a serial killer in a hockey mask running around with a machete and a fourteen-inch boner. With my luck that’ll be my date. And yes, I define the word “date” quite generously tonight.
Finally, I spot it. The sticker I seek tags the rusted bumper of a late-’80s model Monte Carlo. Purple. Like Barney purple.
Understandably, this gives me pause. I mean, do I really want to have my cherry popped in the back of the Barneymobile? The bumper sticker itself is faded and peeling, but otherwise exactly as described. The garnet and black image of the Carolina Gamecocks mascot, Cocky, anchors the left side. Yes, that’s the mascot’s actual name, and now the guy’s Bangr handle makes total sense. The slogan to the right of Cocky is clearly meant to be subtle:
YOU CAN’T LICK OUR COCKS
Seeing those words mud splattered and tramp stamped on the Barneymobile’s rusted bumper is far less alluring than I’d imagined, and my Dorothy nerves take over again. My palms are slick with sweat and I rub them dry on my jeans. I remind myself that I’m okay with forgoing love and romance (and my hot, imaginary farm boy, Cody) for my first time. Shelby’s right. This is bound to be a hot mess. Better to get in a few practice runs. Just pull up the old Bangr app and do a little window-shopping. But dude has only one strike left. That was my promise to myself tonight, a fail-safe of sorts. Three strikes and no Beckett Gaines nooky for you.
My date’s Bangr profile pic looked pleasant enough. Smooth, tanned skin. About seven inches, cut. Nicely manscaped. Manageable girth. No, I couldn’t be sure it was a seventeen-year-old penis, but I couldn’t really ask, either. The Bangr police would lock me out of the app forever if they discovered I wasn’t really eighteen as my profile stated. But CockyInSC assured me we were close to the same age. But what seventeen-year-old drives a Barney-purple Monte Carlo with sexually suggestive bumper stickers? Still, I press onward, like my virginity is some kind of sex crazed homing pigeon with OCD.
I pull into an empty space on the opposite side of the lot, raise the window, and kill the engine with the tentative touch of my finger. I sit there, butt-bumper to butt-bumper with the Barneymobile, only a few car lengths of gravel separating me and my manhood. Looking up into the rearview mirror, I scope out the terrain. Only two vehicles are parked close to CockyInSC’s Monte Carlo. One, a black SUV with tinted windows, and the other, a light blue minivan. The SUV is rather nondescript other than the Jesus fish decal tucked in the lower right corner of the back window like an afterthought. The minivan looks the most out of place with all those annoying stick figure, family decals lining the bottom of the back window. Like the whole über-lean family has a front row seat for tonight’s X-rated feature.
From Masturbation to Manhood: The Beckett Gaines Story.
I’d play myself in the movie, obviously. There are bound to be a string of underperforming sequels in the years to come.
I nervously fiddle with the Walgreens bag in the passenger seat, fishing out a small tube of K-Y jelly and a box of raincoats. I wonder if I should take the whole box with me. It might seem a little presumptuous. I don’t want the guy to think I’m some kind of perv. Hell, I’d be fine if this was over in time to get home and catch season six, episode fourteen, “Sister of the Bride”—the one where Blanche’s homosexual brother, Clayton, marries his boyfriend, Doug. Not one of Blanche’s finest moments, but a teachable one in the end.
Three raincoats should be enough without coming off as overly eager, I finally decide. I take them out of the box and stuff them into the left front pocket of my jeans. The tube of K-Y I slip into my right. These jeans are way too tight, but they accentuate the perkiness of my ass, so you know, totally worth it. Drawing in a final lungful of Devereaux chutzpah, I get out of the car and lock it behind me. Can’t be too careful. No telling how many freaks are out tonight. Other than me, that is.
A heavy blanket of August humidity covers me from head to toe, reminding me of how overdressed I am in skinny jeans, a starched-within-an-inch-of-its-life long-sleeve, button-down oxford, and freshly polished loafers. I wasn’t really sure of the dress code for a virginity-sacrificing Bangr date. Sweat seals the shirt to my skin almost immediately, and gravel crunches under my slick soles as I cross the lot with my head down and my hands shoved deep in my pockets. Ghostly moans waft out of the SUV, drawing my gaze. Its tinted windows give away none of the presumed debauchery transpiring inside. The blue minivan sits empty.
I stop in my tracks a few feet away from the Monte Carlo, jarred by a familiar singing voice drifting out its partially downed windows. I wonder for a moment if this should count as strike three. An omen. The singer is Toni Braxton—my dad’s favorite. Like I didn’t hear that voice blaring through the house enough after Mom left. “Unbreak My Heart,” “Another Sad Love Song,” “Breathe Again”—I sure hope Ms. Braxton eventually discovered the wonders of antidepressants, like Dad finally did. The music serves only to remind me what a terrible son I am. I lied to Dad and left him alone in his hour of need. Poor Rose. I’ll make it up to him tomorrow by suggesting we watch a movie together, one from his vintage DVD collection. He’s been wanting me to see one called The Breakfast Club for a while now. The way he talks, you’d think it was the Citizen Kane of the ’80s, but I hate movies about food. I get bloated just watching them.
Satisfied that Toni Braxton doesn’t qualify for strike three—on a technicality, CockyInSC couldn’t have known he shares my Dad’s taste in ’90s torch singers—and that I’ll eventually redeem myself as a blue ribbon gay son, I grip the lube in my right pocket, the raincoats in the other, and trudge on. As I get closer to the car, I crane my neck to get a better look at my date through the passenger side window. I’m only a few steps away, and this is my last chance to bolt if needed. From what I can tell, he’s moderately handsome. But like mustache handsome. Like a 1970s porn-stache, really. Thank God he doesn’t see me yet. He’s too busy fussing with his hair in the rearview mirror—with a comb!
Definitely strike three!
Seventeen, my ass. I’m outta here. Just as I’m about to turn and slip away under the cover of darkness, shame, and the smell of dog shit, the passenger side window of the Barneymobile lowers the rest of the way down.
“Beckett?” His voice is deep. Like grown man deep. And loud. I mean, like it carries. I curse myself internally.
Note to self: Never give sexual predators your real name on a gay hookup app.
He leans across the seat and leers out the window at me. Jesus. This guy has to be close to my dad’s age. I wouldn’t be surprised if any second now he whips out a bag of candy and dangles it out the window at me. Shoving my hands deeper into my pockets—my go-to cloaking device—I spin on my heels and nearly bite it on the gravel. I steady myself and make a beeline for my car, the Barneymobile guy yelling my name louder with every step.
Jesus, would you please shut the fuck up? I want to scream. But he doesn’t stop. Just keeps calling my name over and over. I ignore him. And then he actually honks his horn, trying to get my attention. The commotion seems to have startled the natives, and heads start popping out of windows to see what’s going on. Curses are hurled at me and CockyInSC. I. Am. Mortified. Horrified. And now I have to pee.
Just take me now, Jesus. I don’t care how, just make it quick before I piss myself in City Park.
A door opens behind me, and I look over my shoulder, thinking CockyInSC is chasing me. But it’s a very flustered guy with wavy blond hair spilling out of the SUV. He’s trying desperately to pull his pants up over his pale, bare ass, nearly biting it on the gravel. He finally finds his footing, stands up straight, and glances over at me with a twisted scowl before disappearing into the driver’s side of the minivan.
I look away, my cheeks burning and my heart pounding in my chest. I hustle across the lot and slip back inside my car. I push the ignition button, release the emergency brake, and back out in about three seconds flat. I even spin out a little as I pull away. I have never spun out in my life and didn’t even know it was possible for a Prius. Even in my rattled state, I am a little impressed with myself. Baller.
It takes the whole fifteen minute drive home for my heart to stop trying to bang its way out of my chest. Admittedly, my heart can be such a drama queen sometimes, so I’m not overly concerned that I’m about to have a heart attack or anything.
As I pull onto my street, still a virgin, but, you know, still alive and all, I vow to be more discerning when using Bangr in the future.
Note to self: Google “10 Signs Your Bangr Date Might Be a Porn-stache Wearing Sex Offender.”
The dark sedan parked on the street in front of our house barely registers in my still racing brain as I pull into the driveway. All I can think about is how bad I need to pee. I mean, my balls are actually starting to cramp up. Once that’s taken care of, I can relax in the safety of my home and the genius comedic barbs of four senior gal pals from Miami. The Girls always calm me. Dad couldn’t have watched more than a couple of episodes while I was gone. God, I hope he didn’t eat the whole damn cheesecake. Rose is getting a little thick around the middle.
As I push through the front door, it takes a few seconds for my eyes to adjust to the horror before me.
“Beckett?” my dad says, trying to wriggle himself out from under the thing on top of him.
The thing seems stunned into a petrified state of confusion, staring at me like a topless deer in the headlights—a topless deer with a big mess of tousled blond hair and lots of brightly smeared makeup, that is. Like an idiot, I take a step closer. I don’t know why. Maybe I’m in shock or something. But with that fateful step, I get way more of a show than I bargained for. I’m not sure I will ever be able to unsee them. The thing’s giant, naked tits with their saucer-sized nipples have scarred my corneas forever. I swear, if I wake up tomorrow blind as a bat, I won’t be at all surprised.
“What are you doing here?” Dad says, still pinned under the thing, his face turning the same shade of red as the thing’s nipples.
I’m too mortified to look at my dad’s face, so I just stare at those ginormous tits. I can’t peel my eyes away from them, and the thing they’re bolted to isn’t in any hurry to cover itself. Here I thought Dad was sad-sacking the night away with Dorothy, Blanche, and Sophia; eating cheesecake and listening to Rose’s ludicrous stories of St. Olaf. But instead, he’s banging some twenty-dollar whore on our sofa while our gals look on from the TV screen. Nice, Dad. Real nice.
Dad keeps trying to get the thing off him, while saying shit like, “I thought you had an audition.” And, “You said you’d be gone for hours.” And, “I didn’t want the cheesecake to go to waste so I invited this twenty-dollar whore over.” Or that’s what I heard, anyway. The thing finally grabs a throw and covers itself, but it’s too late. The permanent damage to my eyes has been done. It’s all too much, and I just can’t right now. My bladder is about to explode. I shove my hands deep into my pockets, turn, and stalk up the stairs. Closing fingers around the tube of K-Y, I squeeze it so hard that it bursts open in my hand, filling my pocket with its slimy contents. Dad calls after me, but I don’t stop. Without thinking, and overwhelmed with the urge to physically erase the image of those giant clay-red nipples, I jam my fingers into my eyes and rub, forever blinding myself with the gooey sting of lube.
Greg Howard was born and raised in the South Carolina Lowcountry, where his love of words and stories blossomed at a young age. Originally set on becoming a songwriter, Greg followed that dream to the bright lights of Nashville, Tennessee, and spent years producing the music of others before eventually returning to his childhood passion of writing stories. Greg writes YA and middle grade novels focusing on LGBTQ characters and issues. He has an unhealthy obsession with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and currently resides in Nashville with his three rescued fur babies—Molly, Toby, and Riley.