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Pacific Bluff

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Zach's on his way from work to the beach to meet up with Gabe when he sees the book in a display window. He catches it out of the corner of his eye skating past, and then he stops and walks back with his board in one hand - grinning - to have a closer look.

He's not surprised. Shaun was always carrying a notebook around. He took creative writing in high school with all the rest of the hippies, and he wrote that hilarious end-of-the year round-up in the school magazine his senior year.

He's kind of surprised that Gabe hasn't told him about it, though.

It's not a big display or anything, just one book lined up with a couple of others, under a sign saying New Arrivals - with Shaun's name spelled out in white against a dark background. Zach's surprised he even saw it.

He's running late, so after a second look he gets back on the board and hurries down to the Bu, where Gabe is waiting for him, leaning against his car in a brand new, expensive looking wet suit. Zach's not gonna give him crap for it, but the last couple of years Gabe's been getting used to having money - looking more and more like one of the private schooled rich kids that he made fun of to Zach when they first met, back when they were both the new kids in class.

“Finally, Zachary, what fuckin’ kept you?” Gabe walks around the car to pop the trunk, and gets their boards out. He throws Zach’s wet suit at him.

Zach catches it with one hand, flipping his skateboard up and throwing into the back of the car, “Sorry, man, got off late, busy day.”

“Whatever, Working Girl, let’s hit the waves.”

It’s not until later, when they’re back on land, getting a breather before they go out a second time, that Zach remembers.

"Hey asshole, why didn't you tell me your brother's got a book out?" He thumps Gabe on the shoulder.

"Oh yeah, it came out last month, I think," Gabe sounds odd, strained. A girl in a tiny bikini walks past and Gabe eyes her, but he seems kind of distracted.

“Well,” Zach probes, “have you read it?”


Zach frowns, “What, aren't you gonna?”

“Nah, man, I'm not into it.” Gabe’s looking straight ahead, elbows on his knees.

“Into what? Reading? “


Zach’s half smiling, expecting it to be a joke, but Gabe grabs a handful of sand and watches it really intently while it slides through his fingers and onto his knee. Then he stands up abruptly and brushes down his wet suit, "Come on man - waves are mounting, let's go back out."

Gabe’s already up and running, so Zach grabs his board and follows him down to the surf.

He doesn’t try to talk about it again when they get back in, or when Gabe drives him to the diner where his car is parked.

He doesn't get it, though. Gabe's usually not shy about bragging about his big brother's accomplishments. But the last couple of times Zach has been over to Gabe's... Whenever he asks about Shaun, their step dad Larry gets this really sour look on his face, and their mom gets quiet, and now even Gabe - who never had a problem with him - now Gabe seems kind of uncomfortable, too. Gabe used to be the buffer between Larry and Shaun. Even if Shaun was the odd one out in his family, the brothers always got along.

Zach knows that Shaun never got to like living with Larry. Shaun always answered his step dad in single sentences and always brought a book when Larry took them out to do family stuff - and Zach can understand that because, yeah, Larry is uncool - trying way too hard with his macho suits and his alpha male don't-be-a-sissy, ex-bodybuilder crap. But Zach had always thought that he was nice enough - even if he was kind of dull - and at least their mom seemed really happy.

... And Larry had a lot of money, and was trying to get on well with his new wife's kids without investing too much emotion in them, which worked out well for Shaun and Gabe - or would, if Shaun would ever accept anything that Larry tried to buy him. Gabe was only nine when his mom started seeing Larry, and he had never really minded Larry cashing out to win his affection.

The next day after work, Zach skates down to the book shop again. The books underneath new arrivals have been replaced. The guy behind the counter, a classic California stoner, is disinterestedly leafing through some magazine when Zach approaches him.

"Hey, I'm looking for a book by Shaun Andrews, it was in the window yesterday - Pacific Bluff?"

"Sure, it's upstairs on your left," the guy thumbs over a page, "under gay lit."

When Zach doesn't move the guy looks up from under his massive dreads and points up the stairs.


And when Zach still doesn't react he stretches his arm further out, pointing exaggeratedly, almost rolling his eyes.

"Um. Thanks." Zach turns away and takes the stairs two steps at a time, hoping that the guy didn't see him flushing

He looks at the art books for a while, not really seeing the big glossy spreads which are usually the only reason he goes to book shops. He walks around the comic book section for a while, just flipping through some old favorites, waiting for a loud group of kids to leave the first floor. Finally he shakes himself and goes over to the three rows of shelves underneath the rainbow banner.

As soon as he’s found Shaun's book he goes straight to the counter. He buys it with his tip money from the last two days, and the stoner dude doesn't even bother to hide his annoyance at the one dollar bills and greasy quarters. Zach says no to the bag and receipt, stuffing the book into the bottom of his pack instead.

He doesn't get it out again until later that evening, after he's put Cody to bed.

The book is thin. Zach flips to the back and it's only 229 pages. The picture on the front isn't the real Pacific Bluffs, but some generic high-end California neighborhood, done up in a fake artsy way with distorted colors and added graininess, a bad Photoshop job that anyone with a computer and cheap graphics software could have done.

It has a couple of reviews on the back, good ones, and Zach smiles reading them.

He sits with it for a while, just looking at the cover, hesitating. Somehow, he feels like he's doing something wrong. Then he finally turns to the first page and starts reading.

He reads the first twenty pages. The main character is introduced: a sharp young detective on his way up, and then the case: the murder of a conservative Pacific Bluffs business mogul - and Zach's waiting for the queer stuff, feeling a little nervous - but then Cody starts whimpering in his sleep, and Zach starts guiltily and quickly shuts the book.

He goes to sit by Cody's crib for a while, until he’s sure that Cody's sleeping soundly, and when he gets back to his bed he puts the book away without looking at it, squeezes it down between his box mattress and the wall and leaves it there.

The next day he takes Cody to the dentist and the day after he goes to the mall where he watches a five-dollar matinee with Tori. He goes out surfing some.

Then on Thursday he doesn't call Tori or Gabe, even though he has the day off. Instead, he tells Jeanne that he's going surfing. He rolls the book into his wet suit, and brings it to the spot by Querkey Rocks that's always deserted.

He reads all of it in one go. He even stays long after the dark has fallen, to read in his car while absently squashing mosquitoes that are drawn in through the broken back seat window by the dome lights.

The detective, Christian Brewer, is slowly unraveling what turns out to be a web of lies around the business man, and his associates - a bunch of two-faced suits. Christian finds out that some journalist - Aidan - has been pursuing a story about the victim before it turned into a murder case. Aidan's got dyed black hair and piercings. He wears black nail-polish and has a serious attitude problem. He's got info on the case, but he's keeping it close to his chest for some reason.

... It gets kind of chilly when the night breeze starts coming in from the ocean. Zach digs up a funky smelling beach towel for a blanket, and when his stomach growls he finds a Milky Way, some lukewarm Gatorade and half a bag of peanuts that he eats while he's reading. Tori calls but he ignores it. Jeanne calls half an hour later. He looks at the display flashing her name, and is surprised at himself when the screen goes back to black and he hasn't picked up.

It turns out that Aidan's got some reason to make the case personal. The main character keeps crossing paths with him snooping around, like maybe he's trying to take the law into his own hands. Halfway through the book the two characters almost come to blows, and Chris loses his otherwise carefully controlled calm - before he knows it, he has Aidan pushed up against a wall with a hand around his throat. Aidan just smiles, and purses his lips, challenging.

Christian doesn't get it yet, but Zach does - because the book was shelved under gay lit - and he feels kind of weirdly hot and uneasy, thinking about how Shaun wrote this, how Shaun came up with this and decided to put it in his story.

The murder mystery is dense and really clever, but Zach's distracted by the other storyline: Chris and Aidan dancing around each other, until finally, on page 178 - in a paragraph that Zach reads like he's watching a train wreck in slow motion - they end up fumbling off their clothes and having sex on Chris' expensive couch, in his wanna-be yuppie apartment.

It's not even that explicit, it's not like it's porn, but... Zach can still feel his face heating up, his heart beating hard and uncomfortable with embarrassment.

The plot takes a few twists, after that. Chris weaves between lust and denial. The motive that he had cooked up for the murder case falls apart, and finally he realizes how Aidan is involved. The last couple of chapters offer one revelation after the other, and after a shouted confrontation, a fist to the face, a couple of dangerous misunderstandings, and a death defying, all-guns-blazing arrest on the real bad guys, the book ends.

Zach turns off the dome light and sits for a long time staring out into the dark.

He gets why Gabe felt weird about it now, because obviously Gabe has heard what the book is about, and anyone could read that book, anyone who knows Shaun and Gabe might pick it up if they see it.

And it's pretty obvious that even if the book isn't autobiographical, it is still a big 'ole fuck you to the Pacific Bluffs. Written by an author who's gay. Written by Shaun.

Zach opens the book again, flips to the back. In the sleeve there's a picture of Shaun with hair shorter than Zach remembers having seen it, looking like the wholesome pretty boy that he really isn't. Underneath there's a short caption: "Debuting writer Shaun Andrews grew up in the Pacific Bluffs. He now lives in L.A. with his partner." And Zach gets the tense atmosphere at Larry's now, because Zach knows that Shaun is not a real life Aidan or Chris, and that the book isn‘t based on a true story, but some clever publicist sure did what they could to make it look as if it is.

Zach puts the book down on the passenger seat. He never knew - he's known Shaun for most of his life and he never knew. He never knew that Shaun hated living in the Bluffs so much. And yeah, he didn't know that -- that Shaun had a partner. That Shaun would want a partner.

Shaun had always been really quiet about that sort of stuff, but Zach had just put that down to him not being a classless horndog like his little brother. Also, Shaun dated that hippie chick Dana from his creative writing class for more than a year, and Zach knows they fucked, because he walked in on them one time.

He remembers that incident all too well: Dana had been straddling Shaun with her dress pulled down and pooled around her waist, and when Zach walked in, all she did was just casually cover her breast with her hands. She even started talking to him before he managed to get the hell out. All he had seen of Shaun was the top of his head, and his hands on her hips, and they never talked about it afterwards, because Shaun wasn't that kind of guy.

Zach had thought about it a lot, though. Back then he hadn't, yet, with Tori, - and he was kind of awed by it. He remembers blushing the first couple of times he saw Shaun afterwards, and Dana - the way they casually touched each other, and how they came out of Shaun's room sometimes, looking sleepy and satisfied.

Zach shifts in his seat, reaches down and presses his palm against his dick - heavy and interested, just from thinking about sex. He should have gone to see Tori instead of sitting out here all night. He laughs at himself a little, and shakes his head. Christ, he's a loser.

He finally starts the car and gets going. The sun is coming up while he's driving home, and he makes it back just in time to drive Jeanne to her five’ o’clock shift.

He keeps the book in his car under the driver's seat. After a couple of days he has reread the whole thing, and then he reads it a third time, bringing it out to the beach and getting sand between the pages.

He doesn't tell Gabe about it.

Sunday evening their dad goes out and Jeannie takes Cody to see Roy, and Zach finds himself alone in the house for once. He starts watching this action movie, but it's crap, and his mind keeps wandering off in other directions. It's getting stupid.

Cursing, he finally turns off the TV and goes out to his car and gets the book from where it's wedged in between the springs underneath the driver's seat, and brings it with him to bed.

He turns straight to page 178 and reads that one scene, twice, trying to just get over it.

He can picture it: Aidan and Chris kissing and fumbling out of clothes, and then he tries not to think about it anymore. Except, he can't help wondering if Shaun has ever done anything like that. If Shaun's boyfriend looks like Aidan? He can't help thinking about what might have happened if Zach had accidentally walked in on Shaun another day, what he could have seen.

The house is quiet, there's not even any traffic outside. Zach lies still for a while, staring up at the ceiling, and then he gives up and reaches down into his boxers, wraps his hand around his already half hard dick and jerks off while he thinks about Aidan pressed up against the wall with Chris' hand wrapped around his neck - wondering if Shaun's boyfriend ever pushed him up against a wall with a hand on his throat, and kissed him.

Jeanne comes home the next morning, pissed off because Roy was high again, swearing that she's not bringing Cody up there anymore.

"He's got you, anyway, he doesn't need another man in his life," she says.

And yeah, Zach gets that - with their mom gone, they really have to stick together. Cody is wailing, upset that Jeanne is angry, so Zach takes him outside for a while and walks with him until the kid's got it out of his system and falls asleep with his hot cheek pressed against Zach's neck.

When he goes to their room to put Cody down for a nap, he spies the book lying next to his bed. He picks it up on his way out, and throws it in the dumpster behind their house on his way to work.

Three days later he goes to the bookstore and buys two new copies that he ends up selling again at a thrift store. He can't really spare the money, and what's he gonna do with two copies anyway? He just wants the book to do well.

Couple of weeks later, Gabe is having a summer party while his parents are gone. Tori and Zach started the evening having a fight, and now Zach is on the balcony of one of the guest rooms. The one that Shaun used to stay in, back when he used to come home once in a while. He's sitting on the still-warm tile with his legs through the railing and dangling freely, drinking a beer, when Gabe finds him.

"Heeyy, my little ghetto friend, there you are!"

"Hey, Gabe."

"What are you doing up here, man, pussy's down there." Gabe points drunkenly down into the garden.

"Tori and me had a fight."

"Oh, fuck." Gabe clambers down next to Zach, and they sit in companionable silence.

Then Gabe kicks his foot. "Hey Zach... you know how you asked about Shaun's book and all?"

Zach tenses up, "Yeah?"

"It's, just... the book, it's --" Gabe takes a swig of his beer. He shrugs helplessly.

"... My brother's a fag, dude.” He says, after a while. He doesn't sound hateful or anything, just kind of embarrassed.

Zach looks down at the party going on below them. He feels a little sick.

"It's still Shaun." He says, finally, which he knows is lame, but he doesn't know what else to say.

"Yeah, I know. Don't tell anyone, OK?"

Zach shrugs, "Sure."

They swing their legs back and forth like they're kids, not saying anything for a while, until Gabe snorts loudly, and when Zach sends him an inquiring look, he laughs and says "Larry is freaking out!" and then they're both laughing, because yeah, of course he is.

They don't talk about it again. Zach suspects that Gabe was maybe too drunk to even remember. After a while, he stops acting weird when Shaun’s name is brought up.

Zach doesn’t buy a new copy of the book. And then Cody's dad goes and gets himself locked up for dealing, which freaks Jeanne out so bad that Zach has to take Cody for a while. They decide to try to get Jeanne sole custody of Cody, after that, which means there’s legal stuff to deal with, and they have to work extra to be able to pay the lawyer - and after a while, Zach just stops thinking about Shaun’s book.

Mostly. Until Shaun returns to the Bluffs.