I’m surprised to see the garage looking so empty, and feeling so cold, so… hostile almost.

“It’s not always like this.” Dean Chapman’s voice contains deep notes, but he sounds almost shy. He’s slouched against one of the work beaches, legs crossed at the ankles, arms folded across his chest. His posture is relaxed, yet slightly defensive. A shimmering image in the corner of my eye distracts me. The Jaguar XK150 appears as a ghost-like vision and then materialises. The manifestation reminds me that in the world of imagination anything can happen. The vehicle’s beautiful blue bodywork matches the colour of Dean’s amazing eyes. He grins sheepishly at me. “What can I say? It’s my favourite.”

“I know. No one knows you better than I do. I even know why you agreed to meet me here.” I look around. “This is your place, your sanctuary.”

“You took that away from me.”

“True, but it suited my purpose. I needed to crack that shell of yours, shake up your composure.” He replies with what sounds like a non-committal grunt. “I invented you. Even your job I chose carefully. Working in your father’s garage servicing vintage cars, it’s a masculine persona. This was always intended to be your space.”

“So you could attack me even where I feel most confident. I get it. Why… Why have me write that type of book, though?”

“I researched. Almost everyone has some indication of sexual preference in early life.”
Those blue eyes flash towards me and the light catches them, almost making them glitter. For a moment, I wonder if Dean is angry. Then his expression changes and he looks almost embarrassed. “Ah…” He makes that single sound contain a world of meaning.

“Shall we take it then that now you’ve committed yourself to a gay relationship that you no longer feel the need to explore this through your writing?”

There’s no immediate response to this. Dean stands there blinking as though he’s a small animal caught in a headlight and, considering the size of him, that’s some analogy. I decide to take pity on him. “The reason I’ve called you here is that a reviewer said she had a problem with your refusal to admit to your sexuality. I don’t feel it’s that simple. Do you?”

Dean sighs, lowers his arms from that defensive posture and grips the workbench. I’m a little closer to him nowand suddenly the small space feels rather more intimate. “Look, I’m tired of trying to explain who I am, of trying to justify how I feel.”

“It’s not so much that I think anyone wants you to justify yourself, but that they like you even though you can be irritating. They truly want to understand you. You’re not the typical hero in a romance story.”

“You mean I’m human?”

I can’t help it. He makes me smile. “Hmm… the flawed handsome hero.” I hesitate at the risk of inflating his ego. “You’re attractive, it’s true, but that’s not why the readers love you. There’s a depth to you that’s almost tantalising because you keep it hidden so much of the time.” The expected grin materalises.

“I admit to being flawed. People who aren’t are…” He stops, then laughs. “I was going to say they’re boring, but it’s not true. I mean, take Jay. He’s so damn perfect and he’s not boring.”

“You really believe that? That Jay’s perfect?”

“Sure. Don’t you see him that way?”

“Some have said that he seems a little too vulnerable at times, especially where you’re concerned. Some people would see that as being weak.” In response, Dean says nothing, just widens his eyes and raises an eyebrow. He almost makes me blush. “Okay, you and I know different. Jay’s amazingly strong and determined.”

“Absolutely. I…” Dean hesitates, as though he’s just realised what he’s about to say and then it all comes out in a rush, almost as though if he doesn’t get the words out in a hurry he won’t say them. “Jay’s a lovely person. He’s much better than I could ever hope to be. He’s more forgiving, more loving, more open emotionally.”

“Some would say that kind of personality is more vulnerable, more likely to get hurt, especially in matters of love.”

Dean shrugs. “Maybe. But he’s more willing to risk his heart so maybe that means he’s more likely to find love. Some people don’t even want to try. Not truly.”

“Is that what you were doing? Having casual sex in order to protect your heart?”

Dean makes a derisory sound in his throat. “Hell no. Look, I know what you’re getting at.” He stretches, the very sturdy bench creaks, and I have to stop my gaze from doing too much wandering. Many women must be crying into their pillows to lose this one to the other side. “I just like sex. I’ve known men into each other. Some said they weren’t gay either.” He stands up and I almost step back. Despite his size, I have to remember that Dean isn’t truly aggressive. If I step back, I’ll only upset him. “Let’s cut to the chase. You want to know what I think about my sexuality.”

“Not I, but…”

“The readers. Yeah, I get it.” He leans back and his jeans strain at the seams. He has no reason that I can see to be embarrassed. “I’ve slept around. I’m not going to lie about that. Women…” It’s my turn to raise an eyebrow. “I’ve been with some attractive and not so attractive women.”

I’ve a feeling he altered the sentence. I roll my eyes. “Save us. No wonder you ruffle so many feathers.”

He smirks. “I’m not pretending to be anything other than I am. I like sex and if I met a woman who didn’t make me vomit and she wanted sex, then hey, I was all for it, but…” He shrugs. “Guys can be gentle yet so raw at the same time.”

“Maybe you’ve just dated the wrong women or maybe an early girlfriend was an over the top role-model.” He grins. We both know whom I mean.

“Maybe, but hell, some of my mates are married, they’ve got kids, and their wives won’t go down on them.”

“You think women never complain of the same thing?”

He looks surprised, then grins. “Have to say never given that a whole load of thought and it was never a problem for me.”

I’m seeing way too much of those white teeth. I shake my head at him. “You’re incorrigible.”

“No. I’m just me. That’s the whole point. Take me or leave me. I guess when you get down to it good sex is good sex.”

“Then why don’t you at least claim to be bisexual?”

He’s silent for a moment as though seriously thinking about it, or trying to find the best way to explain. “I’ve had one or two girlfriends who experimented. I’m cool about women with women.”

“Most men seem to be, and I’d bet you’d ask them for details?”

“What man wouldn’t?”

“And there we have our double standard.”

“Of course. Anyway, point being one experience does not necessarily make you gay.”

“But this is no longer just one experience. It’s a long-lasting relationship. Shouldn’t that dictate what you are? If you still feel attracted to women how will you deal with that desire?”

“If you’re asking if that attraction is ever going to get the better of me, I don’t believe so. I don’t need to look elsewhere for great sex and I’ve too much to lose. I’m lucky that someone like Jay loves me. I’m not going to jeopardise that and I’d rather… I’d rather he hurt me than I hurt him that way.”

“You make it sound as though you think you deserve it, to be hurt.”

He’s silent a moment, then says, “No. I wouldn’t say that, but I would deserve it more than he does. Bottom line, I love him.”

“Doesn’t who you love dictate what you are? If you love Jay, doesn’t that make you gay?”

Dean looks uneasy but it’s more as if he’s frustrated by a lack of personal understanding. “Two guys, two girls, a mixed orgy, that’s just sex. It doesn’t matter what I’m watching, but if I’m gay doesn’t that mean that I should be able to contemplate sex with other men? Watching is one thing. Doing is something else. I’m confused. Damn!” He rubs his hands over his face. His eyes look slightly wild. I can feel his confusion and frustration, and I feel sorry for him. “I don’t know that I want a tag placed on me. If loving one man makes you gay then I’m gay, but I still like women and don’t want any other man, ever, so how can you call me gay or bisexual?” Clearly, he’s given the question some thought. “I can’t help thinking if we didn’t use all these little labels, if no one blinked an eye or asked questions, well, wouldn’t that make things like same sex marriages easier?”

“Marriage?” I can see Dean struggling not to smile, but eventually the corners of his mouth curl up. He shrugs.

“Let’s just call it a possibility.”

“A possibility?”

“Yeah, sure. Why not?” He shrugs again. “After all, there are those who would still like to deny someone like me could jump the fence. If someone like me, an arrogant, womanising, cocky sod can get in touch with his feminine side, I guess anything’s possible.”

“You’re never going to change, are you?”

Dean laughs. “What for? Jay loves me just as I am. If it’s good enough for him, it should be good enough for anybody. Sorry, Sharon. What you see is what you get. If people don’t like that to hell with them.”

“You could just say you’re gay and make everyone happy.”

That blue stare can be so unnerving at times. “I could, but why should I? I could say what everyone wants to hear, but I won’t lie to Jay. I’m not perfect but the only important thing is what Jay and I think and if I slip into one lie, then maybe I’ll slip into another. I don’t know if I’m gay and until that changes, or they come up with some other neat little label that fits, I won’t say it just to please people who aren’t important to me. I don’t know that I’m gay, but I still love Jay.” He looks contemplative suddenly. “In some ways, I can’t help thinking that means more to him, that I love him despite all the reasons I can think of not to. My being honest with Jay, that’s more important than trying to fit into some neat little box to please other people.”

I can’t help smiling and Dean grins back. Whatever choices Dean Chapman has made, there’s no denying he’s a heartbreaker.

© Sharon Maria Bidwell, all rights reserved.