Anniversary Shenanigans: Author Visit + Giveaway - Sidney Bell

Brace yourselves for the feels Sidney Bell is about to serve up for your reading pleasure. 

The Mermaid Game by Sidney Bell

“I’m not staying,” Jim insisted, although he didn’t seem to be leaving. The tile was cold beneath his bare feet, the hems of his jeans damp because Marco was an uncultured swine who couldn’t bathe without splashing water all over hell and back. Marco knew exactly what he was thinking, too, because his crooked grin was blindingly white against his deeply olive skin, his dark eyes sly. He was sleek as an otter in the big claw-footed bathtub. Jim could see the steam from across the room. He’d only stepped inside to say that he’d be in the garage, and he’d really meant to leave, but now he was just standing here staring.

Marco flicked a few drops of water in Jim’s direction with lazy fingers and said, “Come swimming with me, Jimmy. You can be my mermaid that I’ve rescued from the depths of the ocean.”

“It’s a tub,” Jim replied, unimpressed. “And I’m a better swimmer than you. And wouldn’t a mermaid be saving you?”

“Details,” Marco said dismissively. “Get in.”

“I can’t stay up here with you. My mother is downstairs. I told her I was coming right back down, and if I take too long, she’ll know we’re—”

“Yes, life as we know it will end. Elaine McGuire is forced to acknowledge that The Sex exists. And yet, I suspect she will survive. She does have children, after all.” Marco paused mid-eyeroll. “Are you sure you weren’t adopted? That would explain so much.”

Jim ignored that. “I have to get the shelves installed in the garage. And I said I’d help rake the leaves, since Dad’s back is hurting again. I promised. I can’t…I can’t just ignore all of that to stay up here with you.” He could hear the longing he couldn’t quite conceal, and Marco’s expression lost that ironic edge.

“It’s a bath, Jimmy, not an orgy,” Marco said gently. “Please get in. The mermaid game is really simple, I swear. It’s basically me calling you a mermaid. We’re already playing, actually. But it’s better if you’re in here with me. Verisimilitude, pal.”

Jim studied all that damp, flushed-red skin, the tendril of black hair dripping against Marco’s creased forehead. “I can’t.”

Marco folded his arms on the lip of the tub and dropped his chin to rest on his hands, the porcelain squeaking under his wet fingertips as he got comfortable. Matter-of-factly, he said, “I hate what this does to you. I hate what they do to you.”

“I’m fine.”

“You’re like someone else whenever we come here.”

Jim stiffened, but the implication of the words—I don’t like who you are when we’re here—didn’t match the concern in Marco’s face, and Jim knew better, he did, and even if he hadn’t, Marco knew him, well enough to read the impending hurt and fear.

 “No.” Marco sat up so fast he sent more water sloshing onto the floor. “God, no. That’s not what I meant.”

Jim grabbed towels from the closet and draped them over the floor while Marco watched, mouth pursed unhappily. “It’s okay,” Jim said.

“No, it isn’t.” Marco caught Jim’s wrist, staring up at him with eyes gone tense at the corners. “I love you. All the versions of you. Even the uptight little ass you become when you’re around your family. I just want to make it better. You’re so…locked in. And it’s not…fuck. I’m saying it wrong.”

“No, it’s not wrong.” Jim twisted his wrist, breaking loose of Marco’s restraining grip so he could  interlace their fingers more comfortably. He didn’t know how to say that he was always braced in this house. It was another lifelong habit, this tension, as familiar as the magnets on the fridge or the spots on the dining room table where the finish was peeling or the pile of his father’s fishing gear that was permanently grafted to the armoire by the back door.

They weren’t bad people, Jim reminded himself frequently. They loved him. He loved them. They were all just profoundly, effortfully different. Every space between them was a minefield that none of them knew how to traverse without words that inevitably turned barbed. At some point, Jim had put up walls, walls that’d migrated to other areas of his life, until one day he looked up and found himself trapped.

Until seventeen months ago, when Marco appeared. Marco was a bulldozer, a warm, loving, argumentative bulldozer who’d blithely intruded where everyone else quailed. They’d had three awkward dates that’d left Jim wondering what the hell Marco kept coming back for, and then a fourth date that had ended with Marco fucking Jim senseless deep into the quiet, early-morning hours. Jim had woken at dawn, disoriented and overheated, surrounded by Marco’s heavy, snoring bulk. Marco’s forearm, slack with sleep, was draped around him, and Jim’s hands had somehow clamped down on it in the night, holding it in place.

When Marco finally blinked his eyes open, he’d demanded breakfast and entertainment, only to be curiously satisfied by the sleeve of Ritz crackers and the ancient issue of The Atlantic Jim had produced, and he’d lain there in Jim’s bed talking with his mouth full about some outdated article he’d barely gotten three paragraphs into before he started picking it apart, oblivious to the fact that Jim had tuned him out in order to quietly panic about how badly he’d wanted to say I’m not going to mention the crumbs in my sheets, because that’s how much I want you, I love the crumbs you’re leaving behind, that’s how much I already need you.

Jim, it later turned out, was the kind of man who could know he was in love for six months before he managed to say it. For a long time, he’d wondered when Marco would get tired of always being the one who had to reach across the distance Jim couldn’t help creating. He wasn’t sure when he’d simply decided to be grateful.

Now, Marco said, “You’re allowed to speak up for what you need. They should let you. Hell, they should want you to. I know that you know how. You do it with me.”

That’s different, Jim wanted to say. I trust you not to leave.

“You do it everywhere else,” Marco continued. “You’re so much happier everywhere else.”

“It’s easier everywhere else.” Jim’s throat was so tight he wasn’t sure how the words got out. “But here…I don’t know how to stop.”

“You just do what I say. I won’t get you into trouble, I promise.” Marco raised three fingers in the Boy Scout salute, then smiled, that impish, sweet, determined smile that belied everything he’d said. “We’ll put in the stupid shelves and rake the stupid leaves together later. But for now, just do what I say.”

“Oh, just do what you say,” Jim repeated dryly. “Is that all?”

“I mean, we both know you want to play mermaid, Jim.”

Jim couldn’t quite stop himself from snorting.

Marco grinned back. “Get in the tub, baby. I’ll wash your hair and tell you how pretty you are.”

“You’re fucking ridiculous,” Jim muttered. But his hands were unbuttoning his shirt without his permission, and it hurt, it actually physically hurt, to take that first step forward, but Marco was right. Marco was always right when it came to things like this, when it came to what it would take to make the noise in Jim’s head settle. The heat of the water left him gasping, but didn’t warm him half as much as the way Marco’s arms opened wide for him, the way their bodies fit and made room for each other.

“If you call me pretty, I’m getting out,” Jim whispered.

Marco laughed softly. “Yeah, right. You’re not going anywhere.”

Jim pushed his face into the curve of Marco’s throat and breathed in the familiar, well-loved scent of his skin. No, he wasn’t going anywhere at all.

Wasn't that Grrrrrrrrrrreeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaatttt? Be sure to let Sidney know what you thought of her fic in the comments section!

About the Author

Sidney Bell lives in the drizzly Pacific Northwest with her amazingly supportive husband. She received her MFA degree in Creative Writing in 2010, considered aiming for the Great American Novel, and then promptly started writing fanfiction instead. Eventually more realistic grown-ups convinced her to try writing something more fiscally responsible, which is how we ended up here.

When she’s not writing, she’s playing violent video games, yelling at the television during hockey games, or supporting her local library by turning books in late.


Enter to win a paperback copy of Loose Cannon. 2 winners will be chosen! Open internationally. Giveaway ends 11/8/17 @ Midnight. Good luck!

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We thank Sidney for helping us celebrate our 4th Anniversary!

Trivia Question: What is the title of the fourth book in this series with a PI, hooker & an artist? 5 pts


  1. Just that quick, I was hooked! Can’t wait for your next book, whatever it is! ❤️

  2. aaaaa. I love everything Sidney writes. from her full length, to her flash, to her blog posts. this was wonderful!

  3. Aww, that’s so sweet. Love to read more of this fic. Thank you for sharing! :)

  4. Sometimes, no matter how short a story is, as long as the author can write it with so much heart & dedication, it'll always come out better than expected. And this is one of those stories. <3
    I've felt Jim's struggles and Marco's resolute understanding warmed my heart. So much love & feels were packed into this flash fic which made me want for more. *continues chanting, "More, more, more! ;)*

  5. Angela:
    I enjoyd the ficlet thank you for sharing :)

  6. I really like it. I look forward to your upcoming releases.

  7. Ah, hit me right in the feels! (And I yell at hockey games on TV a LOT!) See the Anniversary Shenanigans post comments for my haiku...


  8. I enjoyed the ficlet. Thank you :)