So what’s a non-traditional relationship anyway? Let me give you some examples:
Lesbians, both open and hidden.
Gay couples in Southeast Asia.
Transgender and intersex people in the West.
Interracial relationships throughout the world.
Non-monogamy in its varying forms.
Or, in the case of my short story, a college professor and his soon-to-graduate male student.
Edited by Dominica Malcolm, I’m honored to be part of this ground-breaking, international anthology because it opens doors that are often left closed. Marked by Scorn sheds light on all sorts of different relationships, ones you don’t often hear about in mainstream culture. Told through a sampling of genres–including contemporary fiction, romance, speculative fiction, and memoir–readers delve into the narratives of people who have been part of non-traditional relationships and what living outside the norm has cost them, both good and bad.
Available today, Marked by Scorn from Solarwyrm Press includes an introspective, invigorating collection of writers from all over the world that will make you think twice about judgement and ridicule and make you think more about acceptance and love.
Now, meet my characters, Nate and his oddball student Henry, as they find their own way to embrace an icy Christmas Eve in southern Ohio.
“If It Ain’t Broke”
By Sara Dobie Bauer
An excerpt from the Marked by Scorn anthology
When the weatherman said they’d have an “icy Christmas,” he was not joking. Nate stood by his front window and watched the constant precipitation outside: a mixture of white and wet. His mistake? Not getting Henry Oliver’s phone number. He’d tried calling Ella to no avail, and despite creeping disappointment, Nate knew it was dangerous to be walking around out there. He needed to cancel with Henry to keep the young man safe. Maybe he just wouldn’t show, which would be the intelligent thing to do, considering there was a stage three weather emergency.
But then, the doorbell rang at seven-fifteen, and Nate opened the door to someone he didn’t quite recognize. The tussled blond hair was there, dotted with as yet unmelted snowflakes, as were those wide-set blue eyes and pale skin. Henry didn’t wear the awkward-fitting coat, though; no, he wore something Nate himself might have donned: a black wool suit jacket over a perfectly fitted white button-down with dark jeans and shiny leather shoes. He looked older and almost handsome.
He walked inside without an invitation and kept his hands in his pockets.
“I can’t believe you made it here in this weather. I was going to tell you to stay home and stay warm,” Nate said as he shut the door.
“What weather?” Henry asked.
Nate walked toward the stereo against the sidewall of his small apartment to hide the amused roll of his eyes. Through the front windows, he saw the snow continue to fall on Main Street. He had a single candle lit, pine-scented, although it battled with the smell of garlic and pasta sauce in the kitchen. Nate wasn’t one for decorating, but he did have Nat King Cole prepped and ready to sing about the Christ child and Christmas trees. He started the music and turned around to find Henry in his face and the young man’s lips on his mouth.
“Henry,” Nate murmured and gently pushed Henry back with a hand on his shoulder.
For the first time in their relationship as teacher-student, Henry Oliver looked confused. “Did you want me to take off my clothes first?”
“What? No.” Nate shook his head.
Still confused: “Didn’t you invite me here for sex?”
“No, Henry, I invited you here for dinner.”
“Oh.” He cleared his throat and stared at the floor. Seemingly unsure of what to do with his hands, he put them back in his pockets.
“Have other professors …”
Henry shrugged. “We usually just have sex, and I go home. Older men have always liked me, and since I’m not your student anymore, I figured …”
Nate ran his hand through his brown hair and clenched his fist at his side. He felt an unwelcome pressure in his chest: rage.
“Do you want me to go?”
“No.” Nate took a deep breath. “Can I get you some wine?”
Henry stared at him and then smiled: a massive, unfamiliar grin that made his eyes crinkle. “Yeah.”
Nate took heavy steps toward the kitchen, trying to calm himself and erase the picture of other men like him—his coworkers, for Christ’s sake—using Henry as a pretty little f*** toy. His hands shook as he poured two glasses of red, but when he returned to the living room, he found it empty.
“Mm?” The sound came from Nate’s office.
He walked in to find Henry in his stocking feet, standing on an ottoman, inspecting the top shelves of Nate’s private bookcase. “What are you doing?”
“Nothing more telling than a man’s bookshelf.”
Nate handed a wine glass to his student and watched Henry study each book. Occasionally, he plucked one from the shelf, only to put it back a moment later.
“You’re a romantic,” Henry said.
“How do you know that?”
“Byron. Shelley. A practically destroyed copy of Fahrenheit 451.”
Nate sipped his wine and took a slow, calm breath. “There’s nothing romantic about Fahrenheit 451.”
Henry stepped down from the ottoman and sat. “Of course there is. How much would you give up for the love of books?” He drank the wine like beer and emptied his glass.
“Why aren’t you with your family at Christmas?”
“Why aren’t you?”
Nate smiled and sat down in his reading chair: a faded recliner that no longer reclined. The piece of furniture was close to breaking apart, but it fit Nate’s body perfectly. Most nights, he fell asleep in that chair reading.
“I like Christmas,” Henry whispered. “But I don’t need all the trappings. I like the quiet and the cold. It’s so loud most of the time. Makes it hard to read.” He sipped from his empty cup, which made Nate stand and return with the bottle, happy he’d decided to buy two.
“What do you plan to do now that you’re graduating?”
Henry took another gulp of wine and smiled.
“What’s so funny?”
“No one’s asked me that except you and Ella.”
“You two are close?”
Henry shrugged with one shoulder. “She doesn’t judge. Or use me.”
“Do you feel like I’m using you?”
“Maybe a little.” He paused. “Ella says you like to fix people.”
“I’m not trying to fix you, Henry.”
The young man bit his bottom lip. “She says you like puzzles and projects. You like to save people.”
“I just like to make sure people are all right.”
“What does that mean? To be all right?”
Nate considered the question and thought back over all the troubled men he’d loved in the past, the work he’d done to make things all right when they never were.
Henry must have construed his silence as an end to the conversation. “Did you know they’re playing The Christmas Story on repeat for twenty-four hours?”
Instead of eating at the carefully set dinner table in Nate’s small kitchen, they loaded their plates with spaghetti and meatballs and kale salad, sprinkled with oil and vinegar, and headed for the living room. Henry sought the film and soon found it, mid-way through. They sat down to the stuck tongue scene, and Henry laughed quietly as Ralphie and his friends escaped punishment from poor Flick. Nate had never heard Henry laugh before.
Henry only finished half his plate before setting the remainder on the coffee table between the couch and TV. He sipped from his wine glass. Once Nate was done eating, his plate joined Henry’s. He was surprised when Henry slouched down on the couch and rested the side of his head against Nate’s shoulder. He wound his long fingers around Nate’s hand, and they watched the rest of the movie that way, over the sound of ice tink-tinking against the front window.
When the credits rolled before a backdrop of Ohio snowflakes outside, Henry said, “I’d better go home.”
Yes, you’d better, Nate thought. He liked the feel of Henry’s hand too much, and he would not be one of those professors. No, he would not …
(If you want to read “If It Ain’t Broke” in its entirety and the rest of this amazing anthology, get your copy of Marked by Scorn today HERE.)