The Path came out yesterday at Dreamspinner, so I thought I'd share an excerpt with everyone.
The all important moment of coming out in an area where being openly gay is still a big risk to take.
BENICIO KEPT turning the day’s conversations over in his head after they left the chicheria. Alberto called Miguel to report in on the arrangements they’d made, and Benicio stood there and stared at him, trying to weigh Alberto’s various comments. The two men who were coming clearly meant a lot to him, and Benicio admired him all the more for it, but the tenor of some of the comments went deeper than defending his friends, or so it seemed to Benicio. It would be so easy to read too much into them, though, and Benicio didn’t want to rock the boat again after they’d finally gotten back on an even footing.
On the other hand, if he was right, Alberto could be a resource to him, helping him find places where he could be himself instead of having to hide his preferences. Benicio didn’t delude himself by thinking that Alberto could ever be attracted to him, no matter how much he wanted that, but having a gay friend would be better than nothing.
Alberto’s hand on his shoulder startled him out of his thoughts.
“Are you all right?” Alberto asked. “I called your name three times and you didn’t seem to hear me.”
“Sorry, I was just thinking,” Benicio said.
“Those must have been some deep thoughts,” Alberto teased.
“They were, actually,” Benicio said. “I wanted to talk to you about something, but I’m not sure how to start.”
“Just tell me,” Alberto replied. “Unless you’re telling me you’ve changed your mind about leading the hike with me when Shaun and Don are here.”
“No, of course not,” Benicio said. “I’d never do that.”
“Relax, I was joking. Apparently it was a bad one.”
An absolutely terrible one, since Alberto could well be the one refusing to hike with Benicio if this conversation went the wrong way. He could brush it off, forget he’d ever entertained the thought, and everything could stay the way it was. He could do it easily. Alberto wouldn’t push if Benicio said he didn’t want to talk about it. If he did that, though, he’d miss the opportunity, because he doubted it would come up again. It was now or never, and he needed to do this. He needed to stop feeling like he was torn between living a lie and being outcast. Even if he was wrong about Alberto being gay, he hoped Alberto wouldn’t mind that he was, given how he had defended his friends.
“Could we go back to your apartment? I don’t want to have this conversation on the street or even at Señora Vargas’s café.”
Alberto sobered. “This is something serious, isn’t it?”
Benicio nodded, unable to put words to the turmoil of his emotions at the moment.
“Let’s go, then,” Alberto said.
By the time they reached Alberto’s apartment, Benicio’s stomach had tied itself into knots so tight he thought he might throw up before he said the first word, but Alberto waited him out, taking a seat on the couch and letting Benicio gather his thoughts.
“Are you gay?” Benicio finally blurted out.
The look that crossed Alberto’s face at the question was nearly enough to make Benicio run, but after a moment, Alberto nodded.
“Is that going to be a problem?”
“No,” Benicio said, leaning forward to convey his sincerity. “No, not at all. I don’t care. Or rather, I care, but not for the reasons you’re thinking.”
“What other reasons are there?” Alberto asked in a voice so bitter Benicio wanted to hug him right then, but he couldn’t yet. He still had more to say.
“Because I am too,” Benicio said. He felt lighter the minute the words were out of his mouth. If this was what telling people felt like, he’d tell the whole world, except he knew the reaction wouldn’t be the same from everyone else as the slow smile spreading across Alberto’s face.
“That certainly changes things,” Alberto said after a moment. “Does Miguel know?”
“You’re the first person I’ve told,” Benicio replied. “I was afraid to say anything to anyone else. You said it yourself. Highlanders aren’t known for being accepting of it.”
“I won’t say anything, but you can tell Miguel if you want. He knows about me, and he’s come a long way from his initial reaction to finding out.”
“How did he find out?” Benicio asked curiously.
“Shaun and Don,” Alberto said with a laugh. “You’ll see when you meet them. They’re a force of nature when they put their mind to something. I don’t know what gave me away—I never asked—but they pegged me the first day, and when I said I didn’t have a girlfriend, they asked me if I had a boyfriend. I was so flustered that I don’t even know what I said, but they took it as ‘not now, but not because I’m not looking’ and spent the rest of the trip giving me advice on finding the right man.”
“You don’t seem to have taken their advice,” Benicio said. “Or is there someone you never talk about?”
“No, there isn’t anyone,” Alberto said. “But not for lack of taking their advice. In fact it’s probably because of their advice. They made me really think about what I wanted and told me never to settle for anything less. Until I find that, I’m happier living alone.”
Benicio wanted to ask what he was looking for, but that was more personal than he was comfortable with. Asking if Alberto was gay had been hard enough. “That sounds like good advice.”
“Wait until you meet them,” Alberto said. “They’re living a dream. They’re from California, so their marriage is actually legal, not just their promises to each other. Their families and friends all know. They don’t have to hide or be afraid of people knowing about them.”
“That would never happen here,” Benicio said sadly.
“Maybe in Lima, but not in Cusco anytime soon,” Alberto said. “That doesn’t mean I can’t dream of meeting the right man someday, though. We’d just have to find a way to live our lives discreetly.”
Benicio considered that—all the ways he would have to spin stories to play down the depth of their attachment, the reasons for their cohabitation, the touches they could never share in public. It would be a restrictive life, but it might be worth it if he had someone special to come home to at the end of the day, if he had a lover to fall asleep next to at night. It wasn’t ideal, but just the thought of it being possible made his heart lighter. He could follow the same advice Alberto’s friends had given him and look for the right person. “You’ll have to show me around places where I might meet the right man. I don’t even know where to start looking.”
“Not in Pisac, that’s for sure,” Alberto said. “But if that’s what you want, I can take you to a club or something after we get back from the next hike. I don’t think we’ll really have time before we leave on this one.”
“I wouldn’t get in your way,” Benicio promised when he heard the reticence in Alberto’s voice. “You don’t have to admit to knowing me, even, if you’re worried about being seen with someone like me. Just tell me where to go. I can even go on a different night than you do.”
“No, that’s not what I meant at all,” Alberto said. “Just… clubs aren’t really the best place to start a meaningful relationship. Most of the guys who hang out there are looking for someone to pass the time with, not someone to settle down with.”
“That’s not what you’re looking for,” Benicio said. “At least, that’s not what you said.”
“It’s not what I’m looking for,” Alberto agreed, “but it’s all I’ve ever managed to find, no matter what I’m looking for. It’s okay for blowing off a little steam, but not for settling down.”
The image of Alberto entwined with a faceless lover floated before Benicio’s eyes and wrenched at his heart. He’d thought he could go to a club with Alberto and pretend not to notice if Alberto met someone, but now he wasn’t so sure. “So where do you meet someone for settling down?”
“I wish I knew,” Alberto replied. “I haven’t found it yet.”
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