Lee Benoit

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Jamie Cowan hoped his new gig as playwright-in-residence at an urban theater would be the start of a new life -- a proud life out of the closet. Instead, he's stuck in student digs with oversexed roommates and a morose parrot. He'...
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Jamie Cowan hoped his new gig as playwright-in-residence at an urban theater would be the start of a new life -- a proud life out of the closet. Instead, he's stuck in student digs with oversexed roommates and a morose parrot. He's too intimidated by city life and city people to be honest about being gay, much less try to find a lover. Worst of all, he's blocked, unable to write, and in danger of losing his dream life before it even begins -- until an errand for the theater brings him face-to-face with the most beautiful man he's ever seen.

Spider is a humble Dominican-American tailor. Meeting Jamie gives Spider a glimpse of a life -- and love -- he never imagined for himself. But Spider has a secret, and it's not that he's gay. Whenever the moon is high, Spider sits before his loom and weaves tapestries that predict the future.

Spider and Jamie's mutual attraction is undeniable, but first they must overcome Jamie's closet and Spider's secrets. That's when they learn that their past fears are nothing compared to a new one: an arcane threat that will test Jamie's mettle and threaten Spider's very survival.

  • Note:This book contains explicit sexual content, graphic language, and situations that some readers may find objectionable: male/male sexual practices.
Spider felt the moonset in his mind and body the way he imagined a beach felt the tide. He blinked in the gloom of his shop’s rear room. Outside, the afternoon was still bright, he knew, though there were no windows in his workshop. Today he finished weaving a few minutes later than yesterday, and a few minutes earlier than he would finish tomorrow. Soon he would spend a few nights in total darkness if he didn’t remember to light a lamp before sitting and facing the loom.

Puesta de la luna,” Spider murmured to himself as the last of the pressure to weave, weave, weave left him. The moon had set. He resisted the urge to stretch and groan like his grandfather always had at the end of a moon cycle. Spider was still young. How had Abuelo done this work into his extreme old age? Spider moved to the shop side of the loom without looking at the day’s weaving. He never did. He knew what he would see.

Then he remembered that he had a visitor. He always closed and locked the shop during the moon’s time. Could he have forgotten today? He doubted it, but otherwise how had the visitor entered? Spider swiped the curtain aside along with his trepidation, faster than he normally did, and stood momentarily blinded by the brassy rays of the summer sunset.

The man popped up with a huff of breath, as if he were impatient or perhaps relieved. Abuelo had always said it cost nothing to think the best of people, but Spider wasn’t so sure. It was often safer to be wary. He blinked away the sun dazzle and tried to look into the man’s eyes, but all he could see were the shadows around them. He yanked the string that controlled the shop’s lights, and the man sat again, abruptly. Spider worried that he was unwell.

Belatedly, Spider remembered why the man had said he was here. He hadn’t given his name to the woman from the theater who had placed the drapery order, and he surprised himself by offering it to the man. “My name is Tomás. Most call me Spider.”

The man recovered himself enough to stand again, and Spider took a half step backward to accommodate him.

“James Cowan. Jamie,” the man said and gave a perfunctory American handshake. Something made Spider hold the hand a moment too long and rest his left hand on the back of Jamie’s right. Spider had watched Abuelo greet his closest friends with a similar two-handed grasp, intimate but restrained. It was an old-fashioned gesture, almost courtly. Even so, Spider knew he took a chance touching the man for longer than was socially expected. Jamie pulled his hand back but smiled at Spider, and all at once the colors in the room shifted into a clarity the setting sun couldn’t deliver. Jamie was young, no older than Spider, and fit, not in that vigorous American way, but fit like a man who eats little and burns it all up. His curly hair was sweat damp, as were his clothes, but his smile was open and tidy as sheets on a clothesline. Spider felt himself smile back and resisted the urge to touch his fingers to his lips to confirm the expression. There had been a time when he smiled more often.

Spider realized he’d been too busy staring and smiling to respond to Jamie’s introduction, and opened his mouth to correct his rudeness, but Jamie spoke first, gesturing at the closed curtain behind them.

“You’re a weaver too, huh?” His English sounded odd to Spider -- American, but not local. Spider wanted to listen longer, try to discover the secret of Jamie’s voice.

Spider indicated the bolts of cloth surrounding them. “I am a weaver always. The stitching, it is only my livelihood.” He wondered how his voice sounded to this stranger. He knew his English was only slightly accented, but imagined it came across as oddly measured, deliberate.

After the deep gloom of his workshop and the loom’s dark requirements, the shop’s brightness and Jamie’s presence conspired to disorient Spider, as if by stepping from the workshop to the front room, he’d stepped back a few hours in time. Or forward.

Spider resolutely avoided looking at Jamie -- he feared he’d get caught looking and suspected that, once caught, he wouldn’t seek escape. Spider might not be worldly, but he knew enough to understand that many men, even Americans, didn't relish such attention. So instead he began moving about the shop gathering the completed draperies. Abuelo had always teased Spider about separating completed orders for shelving. Spider had always derived satisfaction from the order of his color-coded spectrum, which lined the walls beginning with reds to the left of the entry door and running through the colors of the rainbow around the shop’s perimeter to finish with purples on the right-hand side of the door. Neutrals, blacks, and whites were relegated to the back of the shop around the curtain to the workshop. Since Abuelo’s death, maintaining the shelving practice brought the old man and his teasing to mind every time Spider gathered a client’s order. If Jamie noticed the unorthodox method, he didn’t say anything, and Spider still wasn’t looking.

When he had all the parts of the order together on the cutting table, he crouched to pull several sheets of rough brown paper from the shelf under the sewing machines and bundled the drapes with twine from a dispenser mounted on the ceiling. From the corner of Spider’s eye, Jamie appeared singularly disinterested in examining the drapes, and Spider shrugged; they were exactly as ordered. Remembering his grandfather’s advice, Spider chose to believe the other man wasn’t indifferent, but rather ignorant of the nuances of stage sets -- he was only fetching the order, after all. Bundling nearly finished, Spider straightened and watched Jamie more openly as he paced back and forth across the front of the shop, looking out the plate windows and tapping his fingers on the sides of his thighs. Leaning against the plate glass of the front window was a bicycle Spider assumed was Jamie’s.

The sunset lit Jamie’s curls an impossible orange color, but Spider refused to succumb to speechlessness. “You may bring your bike inside if you are worried, but I am almost finished with your order. Anyway, Caridad is watching, so no one will disturb it.”

Jamie turned abruptly, as if interrupted while daydreaming. “Caridad? Oh, the minister lady?”

Spider hid his sudden grin by bending over for more paper, starting on the final package. “Minister? No, Caridad is not a minister.” Abuelo would have added that she was no lady either, but Spider didn’t. He knew his quiet manner made others, particularly Americans, nervous. He was unaccustomed to having anyone to talk to besides his grandfather, and now Caridad, who had been an unexpected comfort since Abuelo died. She shared his grief and understood his silences. She knew about the weaving and its strange necessity, and she also knew the other reason for his solitude, though they had never spoken directly of his desire for men. He wondered, if she were here, whether she’d notice his interest in Jamie. He wanted to open the door to this nervous young man, so he gave in to his impulse to offer something of himself besides his name. “I made you wait,” he said. “I apologize.”

Jamie stopped fidgeting and faced Spider. “It’s okay. I mean, I wasn’t expecting to have to come here, and I have a lot to do today.” His eyes got wide enough for Spider to see their color, a honeyed hazel, and he clapped one hand over his mouth. “Oh gosh! I’m sorry! That was rude. I didn’t mean to rush you or anything.” He looked like a little kid caught pissing in a swimming pool, and Spider resisted the urge to reach out and ruffle his hair to let him know it was okay, the way his grandfather would have done.

Spider didn’t reach out, but like he always did when flummoxed, he relied on his memories of what his grandfather might have said to set people at ease. “Young people are always in a rush. So American.” Spider knew he sounded ridiculous. He ducked behind the growing stack of bulky paper parcels to hide. He’d never be as good with people as Abuelo had been.

To Spider’s surprise, Jamie responded. “We’re the same age, yeah? Anyway, sorry, man. I don’t know why Belinda sent me, except that I wasn’t really being useful around the theater, and I’m trying, you know?”

The plea had nothing to do with Spider, but Spider felt pulled to respond. “You are new at deliveries?”

Jamie hung his head. “I wish. I’m the new playwright in residence, but I’m blocked. I have to run lines with the lead actor so he doesn’t sound like an idiot, and I have to find a new place to live. I don’t even have a car, and no one told me there would be this much to carry.” With a sigh, he bent at the waist to lean across the sewing table. “How am I ever going to carry all this on my bike?” Jamie resumed pacing and ran his hand through his hair over and over until it stood up, and Spider wanted nothing more than to smooth it for him. Caridad would laugh at him for such an impulse, but he’d endure her derision for a chance to help Jamie. Help Jamie? It wasn’t like him at all, but watching the nervous, distressed man before him, Spider wanted to try.

Spider gave a warm chuckle, another of his grandfather’s tricks, and Jamie brought his head up sharply. “You’re laughing at me! Never mind, I’ll manage.” With that, he hefted the topmost package and nearly toppled backward. Though Spider and Jamie were of a height, to Spider Jamie looked slight, almost translucent, as if Spider could see every color through him. Spider wasn’t used to feeling so solid.

Spider rushed around the sewing table and steadied the package as best he could without touching Jamie. “Careful,” he said. “Listen, I know nothing of your work, but I’d like to help if I can. Running lines sounds athletic and tiring, and I know nothing of writing drama. I don’t have an apartment up my sleeve either.” He rested the package back on the table, enjoying the feeling of solidity he got from stepping in to help. Maybe that feeling was a sign that he was on the right track, or maybe it was a coincidence, but Spider wanted to keep feeling strong and reliable. “Please, I was only teasing before.” He sought and found Jamie’s gaze and spent a long beat enumerating the colors he saw in Jamie’s eyes. “If you allow it, I will help with what I can.”

Jamie looked back into Spider’s eyes and nodded. “If it’s no trouble,” he said.

Spider smiled, his own smile and not one of his grandfather’s resurrected ones, and ushered Jamie out of his shop, locking up behind them and leading the way next door to the Botánica Santiago.

The look Caridad gave him was just as gloating as he’d expected. He never brought people over, didn’t have any real friends, never dated. He wasn’t an ordinary man, yet Caridad never tired of reminding him he could try, could pass if he made an effort. When Jamie faltered in front of him upon entering Caridad’s shop and Spider got a whiff of his body, he felt any effort would be worth the cost to have a chance with the young playwright. The smell of Jamie's sweat -- part nerves and part effort, Spider guessed -- rushed from Spider's nostrils right to his groin. This was even more of a surprise than his smile earlier.

Caridad tilted her plump cheek for a kiss, which Spider dutifully gave before stepping back to introduce Jamie.

“So, our arañito has caught himself a nice mosca, eh?”

“Ignore her,” Spider said to Jamie. “She’s teasing me, not you.”

“Arañito means Spider?” Jamie asked. “Anyway, I can’t imagine anyone ignoring Miss Caridad.”

Caridad beamed at Jamie. “Arañito means little spider, so you don’t have to be afraid of him,” Caridad said. “And you’re the nice juicy fly he’s caught. Tell me, Jamie, how did he do it?”

Jamie didn’t respond but looked as trapped as Caridad claimed he was.

Spider would have loved to reach out with his hands to soothe Jamie, but he settled for reaching out with his voice. “Don’t worry, Jamie. You don’t have a chance with her. No one does. Auntie Caro gets all our secrets in the end.”

When Spider spoke, Jamie recovered enough to ask, “So do they call you that because you’re a weaver?”

Caro interrupted Spider’s reply by towing Jamie through the shop. “Everyone has always called Spider by his nickname. No one remembers when it started.”

It was enough that Spider remembered. Perhaps, on a day like today, it was too much to remember and not enough to forget. Spider wanted the whole thing dropped. “It doesn’t matter, Auntie. My name isn’t why we’re here.”

“I might beg to differ,” Caro replied in the cryptic way that used to make his grandfather call her a bruja, a witch.

Spider followed, watching Jamie visibly try not to gape at the jars of twisted roots, the glass columns of devotional candles, the luck sprays, and the money incense. Spider experienced a flash of jealousy. He’d grown up around all these trappings of Santería, but some of this stuff still creeped him out. He watched Jamie’s studied non-reaction to a glass jar full of desiccated moths and wanted to be the one to explain it all. Caro was so delighted to have a new victim that she played up the strangeness of her botánica. Spider followed her and Jamie into the back room and reflected that no one resembled a spider with a fat fly more than Caro at that moment. By all the saints, Spider prayed fatalistically, don’t let her strong-arm him into doing a reading for him!

Caro sat Jamie at the table. It was decorated for readings, with several colored candles and a deck of cards, but in truth it was more often used to entertain guests. Spider reminded himself Jamie didn’t know that and went to stand protectively behind him.

“So, Spider brought you for my help?” Caro purred. “The help of the orishas?”

Jamie’s wide hazel eyes snapped to Spider’s, and Spider was so caught in the look that he almost forgot to rush to his rescue. “Ah, no, Auntie,” he said, never taking his eyes off Jamie. “Jamie needs a ride back downtown with his bike and draperies for his theater. I hoped I could borrow the truck and take him there.”

Caridad’s disappointed moue was only half put-on. She did love having a new victim to toy with. “Pepe’s truck? He’s finishing that job over by the park. He’ll be back soon.” The spider in her made a fresh appearance. “Plenty of time for a cafecito, to get to know your new friend. Spider, make coffee, won’t you?”

Spider cringed. He didn’t want Jamie to feel trapped like a fly after all, but how else could he help? He moved to the little freestanding range top Caro kept and set about fixing the coffee while he listened to Jamie’s dutiful answers to Caro’s grilling.

“Where are you from?”

“Maine, um, Calais. It’s --”

“So far! You mother, she misses you very much.”

“No, Miss Caridad, she died when I was little. I guess my gran misses me, but she doesn’t remember me so much anymore.”

Spider’s fingers stuttered, and he spilled coffee grounds. Jamie was like him, alone and so lost. Spider suspected he might be romanticizing, but he didn’t care. He and Jamie had things in common, even if they were sad things.

Caro hadn’t stopped to dwell on Jamie’s losses, however. “And you are here, not in your home, taking care of your grandmother?”

Jamie’s eyes darkened, and his brows lowered. The look shouldn’t have inspired a lustful clench in Spider’s belly, but it did. “My uncle takes care of her. After I finished school he, um, he didn’t want me to stay.” He looked down at his feet.

Spider gave him privacy by peering intently at the cafetera. Caro wasn’t so delicate.

“You do have much in common with Spider,” she said, and Spider wondered, not for the first time, if there was more to her psychic act than she let on. But what she said next demonstrated that she wasn’t sucking thoughts out of Spider’s brain, but Jamie’s. “Why would your uncle want you gone? Inheritance? No. Jealousy? I doubt it. Estar maricón, it’s not easy, no?” She sat back, triumphant, while Jamie blushed furiously.

“I know that word,” he whispered.

Spider waited for the storm, but it didn’t come.

Instead Jamie looked Caro right in the eye and said, “How did you...? I mean, no, it’s not easy being gay. At least not where I come from.” Then he stood, and Spider feared he’d leave, but instead he took the two steps across the room and reached for Spider for the first time since their handshake back in the shop. With a hand on Spider’s shoulder, Jamie looked into Spider’s eyes and said, “I’m not used to people knowing. I thought I was ready for people to know...that about me. But I’ve been here a month, and it’s no easier. I guess I’m not ready after all.” The look in his eyes and the weight of his hand on Spider’s shoulder begged understanding.

“Fah!” Caro broke the spell. “Ready, not ready. You will be what you are. Spider knows this, and you should too. Spider, pour the coffee.”

Spider held his breath before moving to obey, waiting for Jamie’s reaction. Would he wonder about Spider’s secrets, about what he was -- besides queer -- that he couldn’t avoid? Caro hadn’t actually told Jamie that Spider was attracted to men, but Spider found that was one secret he didn’t want to keep, not from Jamie. Everybody else seemed to know just by looking at him. He leaned into Jamie’s space as if drawn by a filament, and for a brief, splendid moment, he felt the air around him warm as Jamie leaned back.

Naturally, that was the moment the back door flew open to admit Pepe, Caro’s husband. As usual, Caro met her husband with a fresh cup of coffee and a barrage of questions. “Did you give Estela the candles? Did Marina like the chair? Where are the chickens for tonight? Are mis nietos coming for supper? This is James. He is Spider’s new friend. They need your truck.”

Jamie stood and offered his hand respectfully. “James Cowan. I’m from a theater downtown.”

“José Gallego. Joe, please.” Pepe handed the keys to Spider without another word. Those four pretty much filled his hourly quota, at least when Caro was around.

While Caro plied everyone with biscuits, Spider asked, “Did Marina like the fabric I wove for her chair, Pepe?”

“Yes, Tomás,” was the terse reply.

“You do upholstery work, sir?” Jamie asked with what Spider took to be frank curiosity.

Caro jumped in. “Oh, he is the most amazing cabinetmaker. Had his own shop, back in Santo Domingo. Such things as you never saw. But here? We are poor folk, little mosca. People cannot buy the fine pieces, so my Pepito repairs, refinishes, reupholsters.” She fluttered her hands as if shooing away the shame of reduced circumstances, and the bracelets on her wrists rattled drily. At the sound, Jamie’s hand went to his own wrist and Spider noticed for the first time the beaded bracelet Jamie wore. He caught Caro’s eye and raised an eyebrow. White and red? Changó’s colors. Caridad winked.

“My gran always says real talent fixes what is broken and renews what is worn. My people don’t buy new furniture either, ma’am.” Jamie’s words were for Caro, but he looked right at Pepe when he said them. The older man winked and gave a small bow, and just like that, Jamie was part of the family. The glow that gave Spider would have burst from inside him if he let it, so he kept his lips hard.

Spider watched Jamie draw out his laconic uncle for a few minutes and felt the lust and excitement deepen into a feeling of genuine interest. Jamie sipped coffee and nibbled a biscuit and answered Caro’s questions some more. Predictably, she was appalled at his living situation, especially when she learned he was a playwright.

“What stories you will tell us!” she enthused. “But not without somewhere to write properly.”

Jamie demurred. “Where I am is all right. I used to be able to write anywhere, but lately I’m not sleeping well, and my roommates are...distracting. I’m sure I’ll find something.”

“Fah, you are lost and alone,” Caro pronounced. “You need somewhere quiet, to receive your muse in tranquility. Arañito, there is the cobertizo, no?”

Spider almost choked on his biscuit. The cobertizo was a large outbuilding on Spider’s property, but he couldn’t have anyone there! His secret required solitude and, like Jamie’s work, tranquility. The idea of having Jamie nearby was definitely not tranquil. Doubt scratched a ragged fingernail at the door, rending his interest and letting panic infect him. “Oh, Auntie, no. That old shed is falling down. No place for an artist.” He could never allow an outsider to know the secret of his weaving, though for the first time in his life, he wanted to share it, wanted to be sure of someone, sure of Jamie.

“You know best, I’m sure,” she replied airily, but with a pointed look. Spider squirmed under that look and received a sympathetic look from Pepe and a worried one from Jamie.

“Don’t worry, ma’am. Like I said, I’m sure I’ll find something.”

In a bid to save everyone from this awkward conversation, Spider stood, quickly and clumsily enough to rattle the coffee things, and said, “We must go. Jamie has many things to do.” He drained his cup to the bitter sludge at the bottom.

Jamie finished his coffee in quick sips, as if it were too strong to bolt down all at once. He stood and offered his hand to Caridad, who tilted her cheek, mutely demanding a kiss, which Jamie gave. He solemnly shook Pepe’s hand again and thanked him for the loan of his truck. Somehow, before they cleared the door of the botánica, Caridad had extracted Jamie’s promise to come for supper Sunday evening.

Copyright © Lee Benoit


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