Every Thursday, I use this blog to highlight a title from my list of books and stories already out there that you might have missed. This week, I'm throwing back to one of a sequel to one of my very first happily-ever-after M/M love stories, VGL MALE SEEKS SAME. NEG UB2, the continuation of this story, brings in a complication that many real-life m/m couples face: a relationship where one partner is HIV+ and the other is not. For those of you who don't know, the acronym NEG UB2 stands for: negative, you be too; a common (and, I think, kind of cruel) shorthand in personals ads for weeding out the HIV+. Shawn Decker, HIV activist and author of the amazing book, My Pet Virus, had this to say about NEG UB2:
"There's no protection from Reed's quick wit and ability to craft a winning and thoroughly enthralling love story."
Poor Ethan Schwartz. It seems like he will never find that special someone. At age 42, he's still alone, his bed still empty, and his 42-inch HDTV overworked. He's tried the bars and other places where gay men are supposed to find one another, but for Ethan, it never works out. He wonders if it ever will. Should he get a cat?
But all of that is about to change. At work, Ethan hears about a website that promises to deliver more than just the tawdry hook-ups associated with so many other sites. Ethan wants romance, and although he's always been a little shy about the whole cyber-dating scene, he figures he has nothing to lose.
Well, maybe he does have something to lose: his self-esteem. After he posts his profile, he gets zero responses. But Ethan realizes one thing about the cyberworld that isn't true in the real one: Online, Ethan can be anyone he wants to be.
And a new persona is born. The new Ethan is handsome (with someone else's pic) and the sudden recipient of dozens of online come-ons. What Ethan doesn't count on, however, is finding--among the propositions and the flattery--his one true love. Not just a gorgeous man, but one who suits him in almost every way.
How does Ethan turn his budding cyber love into a real one? And can he hang on to his mystery suitor without turning him off with his deception?
Amber Allure (on sale now for 25% off!)
Read VGL MALE SEEKS SAME First
...A few words, bald and to the point, could start things. Ethan propelled himself forward, in both senses: he walked so he was standing closer to Brian, and willed himself to say the words gathered on the tip of his tongue.
“I forgot your birthday yesterday because I had bad news.”
Brian’s brow furrowed in concern and he began to reach out for Ethan. “What? What was it?” He was about to wrap his arms around Ethan, but Ethan stepped back just out of his grasp.
Ethan almost relented, seriously considering the prospect of procrastinating, just putting the whole mess off for another day when he saw the hurt expression darkening Brian’s feature as he stepped away from him, obviously not wanting to be touched. It was a first for the couple.
But Ethan knew what he must say next and almost without thinking, let the words trip off his tongue. “I went to the doctor yesterday.”
Brian’s face, if possible, became even more touched by pity and concern. It was breaking Ethan’s heart. “Are you okay?”
Ethan looked over Brian’s shoulder, toward the kitchen, steeling himself for the words that would come next. “It was a follow-up to my last check-up and—” Ethan bit his lower lip. Say it. Just say it. He let out a rush of air, on the tail end of which was the sentence: “And I found out, much to my surprise, I am HIV positive.” He returned his gaze to Brian, who stood stunned, mouth open and staring at him. Now that the words were out, it was a little easier and he continued. “My T-cells are at 380 and my viral load is around 12,000, whatever the hell those numbers mean. I just know they’re not good.”
Brian shook his head. “Babe, I’m so sorry.”
Ethan’s anger and hurt kicked in, suddenly, and with the force of a fire bursting into a conflagration. He had never experienced going from confusion and despair to rage so quickly. It was all he could do not to strike Brian, to punch the silly expression of concern stamping his features right off his face. How could you? How could you?
“Yeah,” Ethan said, a smile born of ire pulling up the corners of his mouth. “Yeah. You should be sorry. Did you just not tell me for a reason? Did you think maybe those few times we dispensed with a condom we’d just be lucky? Did you just get infected too? Maybe while you were with me?” Ethan spat the last words out, glaring at Brian, his breath quickened.
Brian shook his head. “Ethan, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Oh, please. Don’t.”
“Can we just sit down and discuss this? Sweetheart, I’m so sorry you’ve had this news, but it’ll be okay. There are treatments—”
“Oh, don’t patronize me. Don’t try to placate me. And no, I don’t want to sit down. I don’t want to discuss this.” As rapidly as the rage had come, so did the tears. Ethan angrily batted them away, not wanting Brian to see. “I was hoping you’d at least be enough of a human being to tell me the truth. I was hoping you’d at least be a man and own up to the truth.”
“Oh, come on, Brian. There’s no one else who could have infected me. As the song goes: it had to be you.” Ethan almost laughed as he imagined doing his best Harry Connick, Jr. impersonation and singing a few lines from the old standard. But he was afraid if he started laughing, it would turn giddy and breathless, hysterical, and would never end.
Brian shook his head and Ethan noticed his ruddy complexion had faded to ash. “I don’t think I am.”
“What? What don’t you think you are?”
“Positive. If I didn’t believe that, I never would have made love to you without protection.”
Ethan didn’t know what to say. A new, and even more sickening possibility dawned on him: maybe Brian was telling the truth. Maybe he was just as newly infected as Ethan…and that would mean there was someone else. That the fidelity he had counted on and prized was nothing more than a sham, another self-deluding lie he had told himself in his pathetic quest for connection...
Amber Allure (on sale now for 50% off through September 8)