Greetings, BHB friends and family!
Today begins a new trend here at BrickHouse Books. Every month, we’ll be bringing you excerpts of work from the BHB family, and what better way to kick it off than by celebrating our upcoming release, John C. McLucas’ debut novel, Dialogues on the Beach?
Dialogues on the Beach follows Jim, who’s been in love with his best friend, Tony, for years. When Tony marries Rachel, Jim finds in her another best friend, but he can’t shake his unrequited feelings for Tony. That is, until he meets Joe while vacationing at Rehoboth Beach.
This month’s excerpt begins at the start of Jim’s tale, way back in the ’70s.
Chapter 1 – 1970-1993 – College, Yale Graduate School, & home in Baltimore
Tony’s wife Rachel and I had become good friends over time, in spite of the obvious: I was in love with Tony, my best friend at college, for years. Initially this was supposed to be a profound secret. Of course Walter caught on, virtually from the moment he and I became roommates in the middle of freshman year. Walter’s gay radar was unmatched. No one else would have thought to call it love, though everyone knew that Tony and I were some sort of pair. Friends even joked about our being married. We were always together. If Tony or I was away for a weekend, the other got condolence calls, thoughtful invitations, kind distractions, from all over campus. Professors would give us each other’s papers if one of us wasn’t there when assignments were returned. I knew Tony’s moods, his early-morning look and the look in class that said he knew the answer and the one that said he didn’t. He knew me well, certainly. He was the all-time master of the butch straight-man bead-read: “I have my pride,” I said once, and he said, “And several other people’s too.”
There was a girlfriend. I knew that, but at first I didn’t worry about it much. Eventually, without rancor, that bond would succumb to distance and time. One day, our daily closeness, the shared books and midnight confidences, would become irreversible, and everyone would suddenly know that I came first with Tony.
But there was, fairly soon, a weekend, first of many, when Rachel came up from Vassar. She’d known him long before me, back to third grade I think. She knew his parents, his little brother, the famous family rabbi, the family dog, and Tony’s best friend from home, whose very name made me jealous. She adored me at first sight: strictly Melanie and Scarlett. With real regret, with an actual weak sense of defeat, I liked her. She was sharply pretty in those years, smallish but nicely zaftig, dressed just as she should be in correct peasant blouses, old jeans, smocked dress for parties, her rich black hair pulled back into a thick braid or billowing pony tail, her jewelry, when there was jewelry, all beads and copper.
Her quick eyes rested on me at our first meeting and she said, “You’re Jim – you’re this wonderful Jim I’ve been hearing about. I feel like I love you already.” Tony said hardly anything for hours, it seemed, as Rachel and I chirped brightly at each other about everything but Tony, dropping occasional familiar comments to show we knew all about him.
That night we all went with friends to a local pizzeria, where I got to show off my Italian by chatting with the owners, who with good commercial sense had learned by then to greet me as signor Giacomo. Rachel entranced the whole group, smart, funny, charming, hip. One was reminded sometimes, in college, that the kid in the Mexican blouse or torn Grateful Dead T-shirt was the offspring of Uptown shrinks or senior Foreign Service officers, and Rachel was like that: precociously a great lady, even with a leather strap stuck with a chopstick holding her hair off her forehead. I had a sense, as one friend after another yielded to Rachel’s charm, of having lost a contest, though no one else present could have known it had occurred.
Hours later, after sitting around Tony’s room drinking Mateus with the hall mates, as the others one by one took their leave, I suddenly dimly realized that I had to go. This was not to be one of those nights when, at 3 a.m., Tony or I decided after all to crash on the other’s sofa or floor; in the morning, it would not be me teasing Tony about his grouchiness; and in the interval someone, not I, would be annoyed, or not, by Tony’s snoring. Of whatever else would happen, and of the fact that in any case it would not be the first time, I literally could not stand to think. There were good-byes of perfect friendliness, and then Tony’s door was quietly and tactfully closed behind me and I strolled back to my room alone. To the extent that I let myself think anything, I thought She knows him better than I do.