Today we welcome author Laura Lascarso who's brought an excerpt of her new novel Andre in Flight. See our review here!
My next few shifts, I didn’t see Andre, and I worried he was another on a long list of shiftless dishwashers. I was desperate to see him again, irrationally so, and was even tempted to ask Fang about him, when suddenly he was there, hanging clean wineglasses on the wooden rack above the wine cellar. Each time he reached up, the back of his shirt caught on his apron strap, exposing the top of his boxers, the dip in his lower back and a strip of honeyed brown skin. Fang was elsewhere. I decided to approach him.
“Hi, there, I’m Martian.” I kicked myself for the slip. Damn Melissa and her nicknames. “I mean, Martin.”
“Andre.” He offered his hand. I shook it.
“Have we met before?” The sensation was unshakable.
He smiled, bashfully so, and lowered his gaze. His lashes were long and curled at the ends. I caught just the hint of his dimples. “No, sir. I don’t think so.”
He shook his head. His upper lip curled down over his front teeth, and he bit it, talking out the side of his mouth. “I just got here a week ago, and if I’d seen you in Alabama, I’d remember.”
I wasn’t sure it was a compliment, but I couldn’t help smiling.
“Is there something memorable about me?” I was genuinely curious.
He reached up and scratched the back of his neck, revealing the swell of his bicep, the tender skin of his under arm, a shade lighter than the rest. And the arrow tattoo.
“I guess so,” he said.
“What is it?” I was making him uncomfortable, but I wished to probe him more, peel him back like the skin of a fruit.
“I don’t know. You’re kind of….” He glanced around to make sure we were alone. “You’re cute. For a straight guy, I mean.” He raised one eyebrow, maybe hoping I’d correct him, a cheeky move.
“What about for a gay guy?” I asked.
He smiled widely and pressed the knuckles of his fist to his open palm. “Yeah. I mean, you’re all right for a gay guy too.”
He was a flirt too, my weakness in men.
“How old are you?” I asked.
He shrugged and smiled like he’d been caught.
Fang came in then and plopped a side of beef onto the counter to carve, breathing heavily and clomping around with his steel-toed boots. I nodded once more to Andre and moved along. I’d wait Fang out.
Later, after we closed, I asked Andre when he got off.
He glanced around at the piles of dishes. He looked like one of those cartoon characters who’d come to a fancy restaurant empty-handed and ordered the most expensive thing on the menu, then got stuck washing dishes. He also didn’t seem very efficient in this line of work. In fact, I wasn’t sure how he even got the job.
“I think it’s going to be a while,” he said, blowing out his breath.
“I’m out,” Fang announced, throwing his apron in a laundry basket. “Take care of these on your way out,” he said to Andre, then glanced up to find me there. His forehead creased, causing his heavy brow to hood his eyes, like two caves. “Front’s closed down,” he said to me. “Hector’s upstairs.”
“I’ll be sure to tell him good night.”
Fang glared at me. “Whatever, player. Take care, Andre.” He made a pistol with his forefinger and nodded once before waddling out the back, letting the screen door slam behind him. I marveled at his departure. I’d never seen Fang be remotely nice to anyone. It was the reason we all called him Fang, instead of his real name, which I’d forgotten.
“How do you know Fang?” I asked Andre.
He frowned. “You mean Roger? He got me this job.”
“Where’d you guys meet?”
Andre’s gaze drifted away, and he shrugged. “I have work to do.”
“I’ll help you.” I began unbuttoning my shirt, so that it wouldn’t get stained. I had an undershirt on underneath.
“Why?” he asked skeptically.
The truth: that something I’d been searching for in all the faces I met or passed by on the street, in all the people I’d painted or observed, in all the smiles and frowns, something about his face told me his was the one I’d been looking for.
“I want to get to know you better,” I said.
“You a perv?” He tilted his head and side-eyed me up and down.
“What?” I stopped unbuttoning my shirt. “No, I’m not a perv.” Was I a perv? Making excuses to hang out with a teenage boy because something compelled me to him. Sounded kind of pervy to me.
“It’s cool,” he said, interrupting my self-examination. “It’s just. It’s different here, from Alabama.”
He had a Southern drawl, which became more apparent when he said “Alabama.”
“Why’d you come here?” I asked.
He raised his chin defiantly. “I’m not welcome here?” His shoulders tensed. I didn’t want him to feel threatened. I should just quit talking. I was fucking up left and right.
“That’s not what I meant.” I shook my head, exasperated. “You smoke?” I reached into Melissa’s apron where I knew she kept a spare pack of cigarettes.
“Yeah,” he drawled, wiping his hands on his apron. “Yeah, let’s do that.”
We went outside. While we smoked he told me he’d hopped a Greyhound bus not even two weeks before. He came to Miami with nothing but the shirt on his back. Fang—Andre called him Roger—had seen him at the shelter when he was delivering leftovers from the restaurant.
“He asked me if I could wash dishes,” Andre said. “I figured I could do a lot worse.”
“Why’d you come to Miami, of all places?”
He smiled. “I heard this is where all the gays are.”
I laughed out loud, then choked on smoke. After months of not smoking, my lungs were giving me a hard time. “You don’t have gays in Alabama?”
Andre shook his head emphatically. “None that make it known.”
“Is it dangerous?”
He shrugged. “Where I’m from, the only thing worse than being black is being gay.”
God, that sucked. I mean, I knew intolerance was everywhere and hate crimes too, but I’d grown up in Miami where you’d get up in arms if someone threw you a dirty look. But I didn’t worry about mobs of homophobes or racists hunting me down. I didn’t have to hide who I was or worry about my safety simply because I preferred boys.
“People are so fucking stupid,” I said.
He grunted. “I heard that.”
“What about your parents?” Despite him saying he was eighteen, I put him closer to sixteen.
“You really want to get all up in my business, don’t you, Martin?” He shook his head and took a long drag from his cigarette. He held it so that it was mostly hidden in his hand, cupped like you would a match to keep the flame from going out. There was something so furtive about the way he smoked, as if he might get caught at any moment.
“Yeah, I do,” I admitted.
“You don’t have to worry about my parents.” He leveled his gaze at me, daring me to say more, making me wonder what he thought I was thinking when I asked him. He put out the cigarette and flicked it into the dumpster. The kid was a riddle.
I followed him back inside, and we worked in shifts. He’d scrape the plates and spray them down with hot water. I’d wash and load them into the sterilizer. He didn’t have any sense of urgency, which made me worry that he was not well suited for restaurant life. I asked him what kind of music he liked, and he gave me the names of a few rappers. I created a station and played it on the kitchen speakers. The music and the task let us both relax. I worried I was making a complete fool out of myself, or creeping him out, but I simply wanted to be near him. I wanted nothing from him.
That’s a lie. I wanted everything.
Hector came in around midnight and eyed the both of us with suspicion.
“You about done here?” he asked. Time was money with Hector. I knew without a doubt the thought running through his mind was that I’d better not expect to get paid hourly for what I was doing. I wanted to tell him that he could keep that extra $5.03. Cheap bastard.
“Five more minutes, sir,” Andre said. His manners were genuine. Must be a Southern thing.
Hector glanced down at his fancy watch. “We got to speed it up here, kid. Dishes shouldn’t take this long.”
“Yes, sir,” Andre said. I couldn’t tell if he was worried about keeping his job or not. If employment was important to him or if it was just something he fell into.
After the dishes were stacked, our aprons hung up, and another cigarette smoked, I asked him how he was getting home.
“That your car?” He glanced furtively at my Sebring convertible, an older model. Nothing too fancy or expensive, but it had a certain class that I appreciated. And the ability to take the top down made it easy to transport canvases.
“Yeah, that’s my car. You want a ride?”
“You’ll put the top down?”
He smiled. He had such an innocent, childlike quality, which reminded me that he was a good seven years younger than me.
I put the top down and Andre settled in, spreading out so that his tattooed arm was on the back of the seat. He took off the bandana and wrapped it twice around his wrist. His hair was cropped close, tight black curls that were copper-colored at the tips like maybe he’d done it himself. I had the strange sensation that I’d run my hand through his hair before, tugged at the curls and watched them bounce back as if they were living things.
“You should grow out your hair,” I said impulsively.
He ran his hand through it. “Yeah, now that I’m here, maybe I will.”
He lived in a bad part of town. Really bad. Bad enough that I put the top up before I even got a few blocks in. That was Miami. It could go from total swank to total poverty within a few blocks. Andre lived in the thick of it, where drug addicts offered themselves on the corners for a hit of crack, deals were made right under streetlamps, and cops didn’t interfere.
“This is it.” Andre pointed to a two-story cinderblock building, which had been split into efficiency apartments. There was a cluster of thugs hanging out at the bottom of the stairs, eyeing my car like it was a cereal prize.
“I can’t leave you here.”
Andre shook his head and smiled. “Man, this is where I live.”
“The shelter would be safer.”
“Naw, man, it’s all right. These guys are cool.” He glanced over at me. “You want to come up?”
I wanted to get the hell out of there and take him with me, but I parked the car and locked it, even though a dull blade could cut right through the top. I tried not to think about it.
“’Sup, ya’ll?” Andre greeted the gang, tapping each of their fists in turn. “This here’s my boy, Martin.”
They all nodded. One guy said I was pretty and snarled a little, flashing his gold grill. I couldn’t tell if he’d meant to be friendly or threatening. I followed close behind Andre, glancing over my shoulder to see if my car was safe.
Inside, Andre flicked on a dim fluorescent light, which illuminated the small space, giving it a sickly green pallor. I hated fluorescent lighting, the way it made everything look ill and dejected. Bad lighting was depressing. In the room there was a kitchenette, a table and two chairs, and a single bed with a plastic lawn chair across from it. No TV, computer, or electronics of any kind.
“You got a phone?” I asked.
“Working on it.”
I had a phone I wasn’t using. I’d get it charged, put some minutes on it and give it to him, for emergencies at least. God only knows what might happen in a place like this. Glancing around, one thing I was sure of, for him to come here and live like this….
“Alabama must have been pretty fucking bad,” I said.
He ran his hands over his hair, smoothing it down. “You have no idea.” He opened up the tiny refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of MD 20/20. “You want some?” he asked.
“Man, I haven’t seen a bottle like that since….” I paused. “Since I was your age.”
Andre shook his head. “Man, you’re still my age, and this shit never goes out of style. It’s like liquid candy.” He grabbed two plastic cups from the cupboard. “Hope you like mango. It’s my new favorite. They don’t have this flavor in Alabama.”
“How’d you get it?” I was pretty sure that even in this part of town, the liquor stores carded. Crack you could get at any age, but liquor you needed to be twenty-one.
Andre shrugged. “Why you ask so many questions, Martin?”
I had no good answer for that. “Just nosy, I guess.”
He handed me a Solo cup and tipped the rim of his against mine. “Cheers, man.”
I drank down the sickly sweet liquor. It made my tongue feel furry. “Still tastes like cough syrup.”
“Yeah,” he said with satisfaction. He stared at me, perhaps waiting to see what I’d do next. Maybe he thought I was going to make a move, like I’d given him a ride home in exchange for something in return. I didn’t want him thinking I was looking for a hookup.
“I don’t expect anything from you,” I said.
His eyebrows rose. “Okay.”
“If that’s what you’re thinking.”
He shook his head. A smile played on his lips. “You are one strange dude.” He stood and stretched; his hands nearly touched the ceiling where there was a water stain. It looked like a pool of dried blood. The place was a shithole.
“I’m beat,” he said. “If you’re not staying, then you’d better go so I can lock up.” He eyed me slyly. “Unless you want to watch me sleep.”
I nearly dropped the cup in my lap. I fumbled it onto the table while a thought raced through my head. I’ve watched you sleep a thousand times. But that was a lie and creepy as hell, and where did that even come from? I stood and headed for the door.
“See you around, Andre,” I managed.
“Like a donut.” He stood at the top of the stairwell as I navigated past the thugs and into my car. I started up my engine and glanced up to where he stood in his white shirt and blue jeans, hands jammed deep into his pockets, staring at me with a thoughtful expression. It seemed a great risk to leave him there, and it filled me with dread, the thought that I might never see him again.I had a long, dark, and lonely night ahead of me.
When up-and-coming Miami painter Martin Fonseca encounters youthful pretty boy Andre Bellamy washing dishes in the kitchen of La Candela, he swears he’s known him before, intimately. But Andre only arrived in Miami weeks ago, after running away from small-town Alabama and his abusive father. When Martin discovers Andre trading sexual favors for a place to stay, he offers him a room in his studio apartment. As roommates only.
What starts as a playful friendship turns into something more as Andre begins posing for Martin, whose true passion is painting fantastical portraits. Martin’s obsession with Andre grows until they are sharing more than just flirtatious conversation. But when an eccentric art collector buys one of Martin’s paintings, Martin’s past jealousies resurface and threaten to destroy what he and Andre have so lovingly built.
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Laura Lascarso lives in North Florida with her darling husband, two children, and a menagerie of animals. Her debut novel, Counting Backwards (Simon & Schuster 2012) won the Florida Book Award gold medal for young adult literature. She aims to inspire more questions than answers in her fiction and believes in the power of stories to heal and transform a society.
For social critiques, writer puns, and Parks and Rec gifs, follow her on Twitter @lauralascarso
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