There is going to be a silent auction for the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
on October 11. The event (which once again will be happening
on October 11 from 11am to 11pm CDT) will feature many donations from m/m authors for everyone to bid on.
Totally for a good cause, and you get stuff out of it too. Yay!
I, maybe, perhaps, will be auctioning off something as well. Though it's kind of a weird thing (because hey, I would just sign a book and donate that to auction, but who would bid on that and also international shipping is ouch to my budget). I just signed up so I don't know if my auction offer will be okay.
But if you're interested, I offered to either a) write a series of letters or emails (at least two) between any two of my characters (your choice) OR you can get another short story set in the alternate universe version of Play It Again, Charlie
in which Charlie is the reluctant host of an online cooking show and Will is a fan.
Ah, but Rispa, you say, frowning in confusion, what universe is this? We've never seen this universe.
To which, I say, right. Well, here it is. Part of a Tumblr prompt I did a while ago in an attempt to wake up my brain. So read, enjoy, and hopefully, maybe, give a little to a good cause to get more of it.
.....( Less with Bread )
Will juggled the six pricey chocolate bars in his hands and the bottle of wine he was still debating, and stared down at the barrels of cheese in dismay. He’d promised Dani he’d bring something good to the surprise birthday party-slash-potluck tonight, but between work and life he’d forgotten to even try to plan until today. The expensive grocery store probably wasn’t the best place to get ideas either. He had no idea what half this stuff was for, or best paired with, or what nutritional yeast even was.
He was going to end up bringing a pizza, like always. It felt especially wrong since he had genuinely tried this time. He had scoured through episodes of Less with Bread
, searching for something that wouldn’t be too difficult, and hadn’t come up with anything that he thought he could make with confidence.
There was nothing he could make, period. He knew that. Yet something about Charlie Howard’s measured, calm voice tricked Will into thinking he would succeed, just this once. And then Will wound up with burnt cakes and separated sauces and undercooked potatoes. Will’s inability to cook even the most basic food was almost legendary. Why his sister had ever thought an internet cooking show would help him was a mystery, unless of course, she’d sent Will the link to the first episode because of the host.
Charlie Howard had certainly set Will’s bells to ringing. Handsome didn’t begin to describe him, with his square jaw and dark eyes and serious expression. He was handsome, with strong shoulders and height and strands of gray in his black hair, but his appeal went deeper than that. Will wouldn’t have sat through a cooking show just for a good-looking host; he knew that for a fact because he’d tried. Charlie was different. For one thing, he shot the smaller videos in a tiny apartment and the longer ones in this huge, gleaming kitchen in his grandmother’s house. For another, his family was often in the videos with him, and when he cooked for them his whole demeanor changed. He was never rude, or angry, or loud, like some other chefs Will had seen, but the line of concentration between his eyes vanished when his family was near. And though he never let them help him, keeping them always at a safe distance from the knives and flames and boiling water, he asked what they preferred and smiled when they answered, and his smile… his smile was, well, there were entire chats on his website devoted to that warm, careful smile.
Will had been sprung after episode one and by the second video—because of course he’d watched them all, his stomach growling and his heart pounding—he’d been cruising the show’s website for information on the host. He wanted to know why Charlie limped, bad enough sometimes to require a cane or for Charlie to sit down for the entire show. He wanted to know why Charlie had a last name like Howard and spoke English, but then fell into fluent Spanish whenever he cooked with certain members of his family. And, yes, okay he’d wanted to know if Charlie was queer, if he was single, if he wouldn’t freak out if Will messaged him through the website, or if he would think Will was going to stalk him like Kathy Bates. All Sorrows Are Less With Bread
, which was the inspiration for the show’s title, was also the name of the website, where they explained that Charlie had started out making the videos at a friend’s request, to give him something to do when he’d been recovering from an injury. That’s why the show tended to focus on simple, filling meals that could be reheated or frozen, but also on the kind of guilty pleasure, fattening foods designed to tempt someone with no interest in food into eating. The show, and Charlie, were pretty honest on that subject, although Charlie never referred to his own injury beyond the blurb on the site.
This being the SF Bay Area, the show also tended to blur all sorts of cuisines together. Will thought that was called fusion, in foodie circles. Occasionally a local chef came on to make something new. Once, notably, a therapist had come on with Charlie and talked about self-care while Charlie had made quiche and kept his gaze on his hands as he worked. Other than that, only members of the Howard family had guest-starred. Never a boyfriend, or a girlfriend, or anyone else. Not even for Valentine’s Day, which was when Charlie had talked about cheese and let his sister talk about wine.
Will tried to recall the names of any of those cheeses and then gave a dejected sigh and took a step toward the next display. He bumped into something that he realized was a person a second too late and turned quickly, which made his basket swing around and hit the person again. This time of day the place was packed with stressed soccer moms, all yoga pants and loud cell phone conversations, giving Will side-eyes for his hair and tight shirt, the hint of glitter. But he spun around to apologize anyway since it was his fault, then stopped dead.
Very slowly, he tilted his head back and then licked his lips. Not to be sexy, but because his mouth legitimately went dry at one glimpse of the man in front of him. His stomach seemed to tighten and then flip, all while going cool, which he didn’t understand, because his everything else was burning up.
“I was just thinking about you,” he exhaled in amazement and then immediately froze to stare up in embarrassment. Charlie Howard stared back, mouth open before that familiar line began to form between his eyes.
His eyes, which were a deep brown in person and close up, were focused on Will as if he was as surprised to see Will in this store at the moment as all the moms were. He was wearing a white, button down shirt, with the sleeves rolled up and the top few buttons open, just like he wore on the show. His skin was darker than it seemed on the videos, like he’d gotten some sun, and Will could see the chest hair he’d only glimpsed before.
He took a long, deep breath, inhaling cheese and cologne and garlic.
“Oh my god,” Will said after countless seconds of internal squirming and getting lost in Charlie Howard’s eyes. He recalled what he had just said. “Oh my god
. I meant
, I watch your shows. And I was wondering what you would do in my situation. Not that I don’t also think about you in the way you are probably thinking.”
Will closed his mouth, very deliberately, when Charlie Howard’s stunning brown eyes went wide.
“I really never intended to be that kind of fan,” Will explained himself, hoping his soft tone would keep things calm. Instead, Charlie blinked and then his expression went as stern as it did on the show when his little niece had started to reach for a hot pan. Will’s palms went damp. It was the first time in his life his palms had ever gone damp for someone. He didn’t think Charlie would be interested in hearing that, however, even if Will was kind of fascinated. “It’s just, in person you are even hotter than you are in the videos.”
He had no idea what was wrong with him. Will was a talker, but his talking was usually a lot smoother than this. In fact, most of the time it didn’t matter what he said. Men took one look at him and wanted him. They never listened to what he was saying. But Charlie Howard wasn’t saying a word and maybe that was why Will was suddenly panicking. His online crush wasn’t only in front of him; he was listening.
“You know that scene in Singing in the Rain
where Debbie Reynolds is totally cool with Gene Kelly until she recognizes him as her screen idol, and then she doesn’t really know what to do at first? Yeah. I kind of feel like that right now.” Will made himself breathe again. While he did, Charlie’s frown didn’t lesson, although he did skip a glance down to Will’s sleeveless t-shirt with the faded Debbie Harry picture on it. “I wasn’t expecting it would be this bad. Not that I was expecting to meet you ever. I’m not a stalker—except in the normal way that everyone follows everyone on Facebook. But I’ve seen all your videos. I’m… well, clearly, I’m a big fan.”
“But you don’t know what to buy?” Charlie spoke at last. His voice was gravely and hesitant, not like what it was on the videos. But then, on the videos he knew what he was doing, and he didn’t have Will acting like a psycho. Still, of all the things he could have said, or done, like tell Will to get lost, or flee in the opposite direction, he’d asked a question.
Will shrugged, although his shame was completely obvious. “I can’t actually cook. Like, at all. It’s the one part of adulting that continues to escape me.” He saw Charlie mouth the word, “Adulting?” but he didn’t interrupt. Will felt a fraction calmer. “My sister sent me links to your videos in the vain hope I could learn to make toast. I’ve watched them all, some of them more than once, and well, those chocolate pancakes you made for your niece? Those almost came out okay, except for how they didn’t look like yours and the first five were crisp at the edges. I ended up just licking the batter and eating the bananas later.”
Charlie’s scowl grew more intense. “There’s raw egg in that batter.” The gravel left his voice but it was no less serious. Will swallowed, although his mouth and throat were still dry. Charlie studied him and then continued in the same stern daddy tone that had earned him a legion of gay fans. “You shouldn’t eat raw egg. You could get sick.”
He appeared to be genuinely concerned that Will had once eaten raw batter. Will wanted to blow him more than he’d ever wanted to blow anyone in his life. He made a noise, a frustrated little squeak that would have had his friends laughing at him, and then shook his head. “The risk of salmonella is slight. I looked it up.” He nearly lost his voice in the face of that unwavering disapproval. “But, uh, it tasted good, anyway. So thanks.”
No one, not one of the men who had ever pursued Will, would have even noticed that Will had eaten raw egg. Of course, Will would never have cooked for any of them. None of them had been worth it.
Charlie Howard inclined his head as though there were no more serious topic to discuss than Will’s cooking habits and safety. “Tell me you haven’t been doing the same with uncooked chicken.”
“Gross.” Will wrinkled his nose. “I haven’t gotten brave enough yet to attempt anything with meat. But, yes, of course I wash my hands. I am pretty strict about disinfectant in general, you have no idea. Should see my work kit—I do hair—and my tools are disinfected on the regular, trust me.”
He didn’t think he imagined Charlie’s relieved sigh, and though he waited, Charlie didn’t have anything to say about Will doing hair for a living. Will perked up. It occurred to him that this was hardly the usual conversation Charlie probably had with his fans, but whatever. Will was going to think about these few minutes for months. He was going to make the most of them.
“All right, no more eating the batter,” he promised, although Charlie hadn’t asked him to. A strange look crossed Charlie’s face. Will watched the flush darken the skin of his face and his neck.
Charlie cleared his throat. “Are you using fresh herbs or dried?” The moment the question was out of his mouth, he froze, then coughed and stared down at the cheese as if the cheese had misplaced his potato peeler.
Will angled his head to the side. “You said dried herbs were perfectly acceptable for someone on a budget, or for someone too emotionally or physically exhausted to seek out the fresh version. You just have to adjust the amounts because the flavor is different.”
Charlie’s gaze met his. His frown slowly eased away. “Yes, I did,” he agreed, so low and approving that a shiver went down Will’s spine, as if Will had been a very good boy.
But that couldn’t have been how Charlie meant it, before he tossed his head and asked a different question. “If your friends know you can’t cook, why ask you to?”
“I volunteered.” Will sighed for what couldn’t be, but explained further. “Sometimes watching you makes me ambitious.” He offered Charlie a playful grin, then realized they were blocking this part of the cheese section. He shifted to the side but Charlie stayed where he was. He was leaning against one of the cheese barrels and Will wondered guiltily if Charlie was in pain.
“No cane today?” he blurted. Charlie usually had the cane on the bad days, but maybe he’d only run into the store to get a few things and Will was making everything worse. Then he thought he probably wasn’t supposed to mention the cane, because Charlie stopped moving and glanced away. “I hope I’m not making things worse, if you are having a bad day. I wouldn’t want that,” Will added quickly.
“You really have watched every episode.” Charlie looked back at him after what felt like far too long.
Will smiled in relief. “Of course. Don’t all your fans?”
“Yes. But.” Charlie took a hand from his own shopping basket, and Will belatedly noticed that he had a white-knuckled grip on the handle, and that there was nothing inside but bread and two apples. “I don’t know.” Charlie waved a hand in a confused gesture. “My friend handles all the comments and things, unless it’s a chat. I don’t… I wasn’t meant to do all this, so I don’t understand a lot of things.”
That was likely true enough. Charlie had never attended any cooking school or worked in a restaurant. He’d been a cop of all things, and then suffered the injury that had forced him to retire. According to the site, he’d always cooked for and with his family, and his friend had recorded him cooking and posted it as a way to distract him during a low point.
“What don’t you understand? Having fans?” It was Will’s turn to frown. “Of course you do. You’re hot, and you make good food, and the way you teach is…” Will blushed like he hadn’t in years. Charlie probably wasn’t interested in being anyone’s daddy, but even if he was, it wasn’t something to discuss in the cheese aisle.
“Hot?” Charlie stared at him with an adorably surprised expression. Then he scowled and shook his head. “Having fans at all takes me by surprise. And you don’t… seem like you would find my show interesting.”
“Oh.” That hurt. It hurt a lot more than it should have. Will ran a hand through his artfully messy hair and lowered his head.
“I don’t meet most of the followers face to face, and I’ve never pictured them like you,” Charlie went on.
Just what Will needed, someone else refusing to take him seriously because he dressed like this, or talked old movies like some clichéd queen, or was unashamedly proud of being the bottom that he was. He made himself look up. “What’s wrong with me?” he demanded, still more hurt than furious, though the anger would come later.
“Nothing.” Charlie regarded Will without blinking, as utterly serious as he was about homemade tortillas and mole and stirring the melted butter and sugar for fudge so it wouldn’t burn. He seemed confused that Will would even ask that question. “There’s nothing wrong with you.”
Will bumped into a display then spun around to fix it, all the while on fire with a blush. His hands were shaking. This was also new. He didn’t think it was nerves and it was clearly stronger than a mere crush. “Oh,” he repeated himself, although in a much warmer, softer tone than before. In any other situation he would have been looking up coyly, but he couldn’t manage it now. “Well,” he mumbled in the direction of Charlie’s shoulder. “Well, you have quite the gay following, just so you know. Lots of guys I know have crushes on you. If ever want to get to know your fans, they would eat you up, and your dishes too.” He risked a glance up in time to catch the blank shock on Charlie’s face. The smile just took over Will’s face. This man was real. “Your friend didn’t pass on those messages?”
“She did.” Charlie spoke faintly. “I thought she was kidding.”
“Don’t worry.” Will almost patted him. “I don’t think any of them have any immediate plans to make you their daddy.” Well, aside from Will, but there was no need to say that at the moment. Anyway, at the word ‘daddy’, Charlie looked right at Will, and Will was aware that his feelings were probably all over his face.
“You aren’t kidding,” Charlie declared, with certainty. Because right, he used to be a cop and was probably good at spotting lies.
Will gave him a helpless shrug. Charlie went even more still, except for his gaze, which traveled slowly over Will from head to toe. Then, unbelievably, Charlie looked down at himself with an expression of deep confusion, as if he could not comprehend this development. His free hand passed over his hip, on his bad side, and then Will understood.
“I am absolutely not kidding,” Will told him, voice unaccountably husky. Even if he didn’t have a chance here, there was no way he could leave without letting Charlie know exactly how attractive he was. “It isn’t just that you’re hot. It’s how you are with the food, with your family. God, you care for them and you feed them and you barely remember to feed yourself, and they don’t even notice. I just want to make you sit down. I’d feed you myself.” Will wanted to press himself to Charlie Howard’s every stunned inch. “And then how you praise people. The way you gently walk us through everything. Who wouldn’t--” Will abruptly recalled the way Charlie had frozen when one of his sisters mentioned his ex during a video. “Trust me,” he said instead. “There’s a legion of men out there ready to bring you home.”
A soccer mom gave Will the most arch look he had ever received in his life as she passed them, as if she didn’t care about if they rubbed their dicks together, but could they do it somewhere else out of her way? He heard her complaining to someone on her phone about people standing in front of the Pecorino.
He focused on Charlie, thinking that he’d probably said too much. He was going to blame it on being starstruck, even if that wasn’t the case. “I am one of them. Clearly,” Will added after too long of a pause. “This is probably time for a graceful exit.”
“You haven’t picked out anything,” Charlie observed, then cleared his throat again. “You should make something easy. Something you can take there with minimal fuss, and then prep in someone’s home. What kind of gathering is it? I could… I could shop with you.”
Will put a chocolate-filled hand to his chest. “Be still my beating heart,” he murmured in disbelief. “You want to help me? Even after I went all crazy fan on you?”
“You didn’t--” Charlie shut his mouth and took a breath before he met Will’s amazed stare. “Just because you promise to avoid batter doesn’t mean you’re safe with anything else. Have you sharpened your knives recently? Dull knives are how accidents happen.”
It was a lot to take in, until it wasn’t, and Will got it. He bit his bottom lip to keep from purring out an appreciative, “Oh, daddy.” He let himself grin, his forgotten flirting skills returning with a vengeance. He leaned in closer and smiled even wider when Charlie let him do it. “You’ll take care of me?”
Even embarrassed, Charlie managed to give Will’s wine and chocolates a significant look. “Someone should.”
Will nearly dropped everything to the floor. “Will.” He blanked on everything else for a moment. Charlie’s gaze was hot, hotter than it had ever seemed in the videos, before he hid it all away again. But it was too late now. Will had seen it in that one shy, careful glance. He finished introducing himself. “My name is Will. Will Stewart.”
Charlie raised a hand, as though for half a moment he’d thought about touching Will’s face. Then he blinked and frowned and appeared as stern as a blushing man could. “Charlie Howard,” he said gruffly, as if Will didn’t already know. He was wonderful. “How about enchiladas?” Charlie asked seriously. Of course
he was serious. Will had forgotten about food, and Dani, and the rest of the world, and still, Charlie was serious about helping him. Will was going to marry him. “Would enchiladas be okay?” Charlie continued, oblivious to this for the moment. “We could make vegetarian, if you prefer that?”
“Charlie Howard, I am almost swooning at the thought of you in my apartment,” Will told him, using the same earnest, matter-of-fact tone that Charlie had. “But I don’t think I can make those.”
“I can.” Charlie seemed to surprise himself with the speed of the offer. “I mean, I can show you. If you’d like.”
This time, Will did purr. “Yes, Charlie. I’d like that a lot.”
And I will let you know if my auction offer is accepted. :)