LENGTH: 220 pages
Best Gay Romance 2009 is short fiction at its finest on the subject of love — first love, true love, and love everlasting (with makeup sex, wake-up sex, and everything in between). The romantic possibilities range from a surprising encounter between two blue-collar buddies to a brief airport rendezvous that become something more, and a reminder to us all that it is never too late for love. A self-confessed true romantic, Richard Labonte has gathered a sensational collection of stories about finding love at home, at work, at any age, and often, in the most unexpected places.
Contains my story, Afflicted. It’s hard to understand why some people feel the need to hurt themselves, especially when they seem to have everything they need or want out of life. So how do you help someone bent on a path of self-destruction?
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The first time I saw him naked, I noticed the cuts.
Red, angry scrapes across the pouch of his lower belly, like scratches or claw-marks. "What's this?" I asked, running a finger over one bumpy scab.
He sucked in his gut to pull out of reach. "Nothing." His voice turned sullen, pouting, and the erection that jutted from his thick crop of black curls seemed to wilt a little. "I thought we were going to --"
"Did you do this?" I asked, interrupting him. The cuts bothered me; they spoke of a pain I didn't know how to deal with, and that scared me. He scared me. I thought I'd known him.
When he didn't reply, I looked up from the cuts and saw the answer in his eyes. Sad, dark eyes, downcast, like the sky before a storm. He couldn't seem to meet my gaze, as if the cuts embarrassed him, or he was ashamed of his own weakness. "Where else do you this?" I asked.
Still no answer, but his arms moved behind his nude hips as if hiding from my view and I snatched his right elbow to see for myself. In the low lamplight of my bedroom, I could see very faint traces across his skin, a network of healed flesh. With a hard tug, I pulled him over to my bedside table and turned the lamp up higher, held his arm beneath it. "Please," he said, trembling when my fingers trailed over the scarred flesh. "It's nothing, okay? Those are so old."
Holding his arm aside, I pointed at his stomach. "These aren't."
His hand covered the fresh marks as if he could smooth them away, but he didn't say anything and I knew I was right. Sinking down to sit on my bed, I guided him into the span between my legs and wrapped my arms around his thighs. Ignoring the hard dick pointing at me, I pressed my face to his belly and kissed the highest cut, just below his navel. His hands cradled my head, fingers delving in my hair, and I waited for him to sigh my name before I admonished, "This doesn't happen again."
- EDGE New England:
- "Loves found, loves lost, lives savored in bitter-sweet twilight or intertwined with the help of some fine cooking and artful sex: for the gay romantic, [this book] has the goods, and some fine writing, too."
- Joyfully Reviewed:
- "[In Afflicted] Snyder drives home the difficulties of trying to help someone whose problem you just don’t understand without sugarcoating the issue or pasting on a too-perfect ending."
- Rainbow Reviews: 4.5 out of 5.
- "[In Afflicted] the sensual images of the two young men and the heartbreaking emotions depicted create a great story yet leave the reader wanting more. Be sure to pick up this short offering if you haven’t read it and if you have, read it again."
- Review by Elisa Rolle:
- "[Afflicted is] a very short story, but you have to read it, it's heartbreaking."
- Reader Review by LouisaClark:
- "[Afflicted is] a story that tackles this subject, you wouldn't expect to be romantic and heartwarming -- but it is."
- SX News:
- "You have to have balls to claim anything is best but Labonte can lay claim to that title better than most. His Romance anthology is a great read ... 'Afflicted' by J.M. Snyder uses love as redemption for a young man who obsessively cuts himself."