Title: Nice: The Joy of Christmas Shopping
Author: Mara Ismine
Publisher: Torquere Press
Genre: contemporary, holiday
Length: 5700 words
Is visiting a sex shop with your best friend a good antidote to Christmas shopping? Or is it a good way to move the relationship to something more than just best friends? Keith and David are about to find out.
Keith and David are both products of the foster care system; it's left its mark on both of them. Trust is precious and seldom bestowed, a friendship that lasts ten years is too valuable to risk screwing up with sex. Neither of them is entirely sure making the step from friends to lovers is possible, though both of them think it's desirable.
David is the more scarred of the two: whatever happened in his childhood to get him into the system isn't discussed in detail (thank you, author, that would have given the story a much darker feel) but is hinted at. The most obvious mark is that he's missing people skills; he knows he's missing people skills, and in his slightly robotic way, he's trying to make up the lack. Keith has been nudging him along in the right direction for nearly as long as they've known each other, but he has a way to go still. Without any real clue as to how to let Keith know he'd like more, he feels doomed to be forever the best buddy.
Keith, who is bi-sexual and a much freer spirit, doesn't have the slightest idea of the interest simmering under David's stoic and slightly menacing surface, and is quite frustrated about it. More confident in his interactions with people, he's stymied by David's apparent lack of interest in anyone, and draws a number of erroneous conclusions. Even so, he treasures David for much more than his ability to navigate crowds.
By the time we get through into what Keith and David are actually doing, we've got seven pages of exposition in two points of view, which gives the story a slightly wooden feel. This goes with David's closed-down demeanor, but probably could have been handled in a more interesting fashion.
Once we're into current events, the story comes into present tense, giving it a more immediate and lively feel than it's had before. Keith's frustration over David's apparent disinterest boils over, and the way to get some answers, Keith decides, is to check out a sex shop. One of the feelings David can express is competitiveness, even if it's over something as ridiculous as the coin-operated "stud-meters". And then, the cat is out of the bag—David's been so closed off that Keith is floored by the thought that David not only is gay, he's cool with being gay, and there's a better than good chance for them as a couple.
I like the idea of this story more than I liked the execution; the third of it that is exposition and back story doesn't showcase this author's talent for creating situations and resolving them that is more clear in the later two thirds of the text. That the two would cling to each other as life rafts in a harsh world makes perfect sense, and really so does David's apparent asexuality. He's fine with himself, he just hasn't the emotional skills to flirt or even express interest, but as with so many things, if Keith shows him the way, he can keep going. Their first kiss is sweet and really an "aw" moment. This is a couple I'd like to check back on, because they have this extra layer of difficulty to overcome.