Within her walls are stories. Love. Laughter. Tears. Lives lived to the fullest, and sometimes cut short before they really get started. She’s seen it all, from homelessness to super-stardom, boys dressed as girls, girls dressed as lamps, and boy, does she have secrets she could tell. Her one truth is that everyone who darkens her doors is accepted with open arms and a song.
Her name is Queers, and for one of L.A.’s few dueling piano bars, she has a lot of heart. On her stage, the beautiful voice of Duff McKinley rings so true he captures the shattered heart of his boss, Brad Mosely, who checked out of life three years ago. But even lifelong dreams have untold consequences.
Duff came to L.A. to chase his musical aspirations, but his best friend Garrett Slater accompanied him to chase a wish of his own: finding The One, his white knight. He believes Landon Kennedy fits the bill. Suave, handsome, and powerful in the music industry, Landon can show Garrett a life he’s only seen in movies. But even as Landon helps Duff realize his dreams, he brings Garrett into a nightmare he may never leave, one from which Garrett’s roommate, Jackson Moriarty, is determined to rescue him. If Garrett repays Jackson by seeing his own charms, so much the better.
Yes, within her walls, Queers has long history. Unrequited love, sinister intentions, fame, fortune, and a group of friends and lovers who would do anything for each other no matter the cost.
We are so excited that our special correspondent Jordan got to sit down with author AJ Rose (and the cast from Queers for a few questions today.
To set it up, the group is seated on a big couch that’s still not big enough, Duff sits on the arm leaning back on Brad’s shoulder. Moonshine is tucked into Brad’s side with Jennica beside her, holding hands. Garrett is next to Jennica with Jackson squished into the corner on his other side, leg kicked over Garrett’s thigh. AJ sits on the other arm of the couch. More than a little cozy.
Duff: There almost wasn’t a relationship with Brad because of Scott’s ghost. And Moonshine would have kicked my ass if that happened.
Moonshine: Damn right, I would have. I wear stilettos for a reason.
Brad: Will you let him answer, woman?
Moonshine: [grins and sticks her tongue out]
Duff: We all have a past we bring to every relationship. I wouldn’t wish away what happened with Scott because it’s part of who Brad is, and I love him. Without Scott, I’m not sure we’d have come to where we are today. Would I have caught Brad’s eye if I didn’t look so much like Scott? Maybe. Maybe not. Would somebody else have gotten through the grief? Hard to say. I feel like Scott’s the reason I even had a shot, so as backward as it is to say, none of this would have happened without him.
Garrett: Oh god, there’s definitely a home-Duff. The one who doesn’t pick up his fucking socks and thinks there’s a Dishwasher Fairy who puts away all the dishes.
Duff: [points at Garrett] Shut it, Mr. The World Is My Closet.
Jackson: I doubt his fans are getting blow jobs from stage-Duff.
Moonshine: [glares at Jackson] Gutterbrain.
Jackson: [puckers up and air kisses her]
Jennica: [reaches across Garrett and flicks Jackson’s head] That’s my girlfriend, buddy.
Garrett: [pushing Jennica’s hand back] That’s my boyfriend, wench.
AJ: Children. Focus.
Brad: Sometimes it is hard, knowing he’s tired, having just gotten off a plane after three shows on back to back days, and all he wants is to lie down and sleep, but there are dozens of people crowding him at the airport who all want a picture or an autograph. They don’t know how the demands pile on. To them, it’s just one picture, one hug. [takes Duff’s hand and squeezes] To him, it’s the hundredth of the day.
If there’s a difference between stage-Duff and home-Duff, it’s that he’s very relaxed at home. But I know that’s not what you meant. On stage, he’s got all this energy and he throws himself into every performance with everything he has. He may be less exuberant behind the scenes, but he’s just as focused. Part of his talent is to make you feel like the only person that matters. The fans get a couple hours of that. I get a lifetime of it.
Garrett: What about the pushy ones?
Brad: Duff’s a lot more diplomatic than I am. Let’s leave it at that.
Jackson: All of them. They’re all perfect.
Jennica: Not the one of you picking your nose when you thought no one was looking.
Garrett: [loudly] AHEM. There’s one from the paint portion, where he’s ducking his head and laughing and you get a glimpse of crow’s feet—
Jackson: I do NOT have crow’s feet.
Garrett: —and his huge smile, and in the bottom corner of the shot, you see the peace sign on his bicep. It’s as true to who he is as a person as I could ever get.
Jackson: [leans over and whispers] Do you really have one of me picking my nose?
Moonshine: [snorts indelicately]
Jennica: [smacks Moonshine’s knee]
Garrett: Which little black book?
Jackson: Well, I was gonna say there’s only one that matters, but now, maybe I need to dig it out and look some of them up.
Garrett: Ouch! You wound me.
Jackson: I wound YOU? Whatever. Next question.
Duff: Don’t even think about it!
Jennica: I know yours, too. Remember that.
Jackson: Like I haven’t been embarrassed enough already.
Garrett: I think I win the humiliation factor in this little group.
Moonshine: [watching them all erupt with a wicked grin] Let’s see. Duff’s feet reek when he takes off his shoes. Seriously, boy needs some foot powder. Brad squeals like a girl at horror movies. Garrett talks in his sleep.
Garrett: How the hell do you know that?
Moonshine: Hospital. Jackson snores. Jennica…
Jennica: Remember who you go home with after this.
Moonshine: Jennica is this perfectly mannered eater, using a napkin all the time and never messing up her lipstick. Until we go to In N Out. Then she pigs the fuck out.
Jennica: [smacks Moonshine’s leg]
Moonshine: Ow! And AJ—
AJ: Oh no you fucking don’t.
Moonshine: AJ is absolutely, positively THE clumsiest person I’ve ever met. Bar none. Boy can barely walk. Slamming fingers in car doors and throwing his back out. He even briefly dislocated his hip during—
AJ: [lunges to clamp a hand over Moonshine’s mouth] Do it and I swear I will write you a cameo in the trilogy where you get papped drunk off your ass and squatting somewhere public to pee because you can’t find a bathroom. [waits a moment before carefully removing hand]
Moonshine: AJ is perfect. In every way.
AJ: I don’t have conversations with them out loud, but I have been known to pace and mumble while I text myself ideas or brainstorm with some of my writing people. I’ve also gotten caught cackling randomly when something strikes me. I no longer try to explain what is going on in my head. Most people don’t get it anyway.
AJ: Your ass…hole…ishness. Utter perfection. But don’t get a big head.
Moonshine: [interrupting] Your tattoos.
Jennica: Your accent. Makes you sound sweet even when sarcastic.
Duff: Your take-no-shit attitude.
Brad: Your taste in music.
Jackson: Your hair. And how much you like lime green.
Garrett: Certainly not the plaid flannel in your closet.
He turned up the thermostat on his way to the inner sanctum so Jackson would be comfortable bare-skinned. A few minutes later, Jennica led Jackson into the studio. He stopped and whistled, taking in the soft lighting, the comfortable furniture Garrett had chosen instead of the same props clients could find going to Sears Portrait Studio, done in light fabrics with bright accents. There were props, sure. One wall was exposed to the brick, and the floor for several feet in front of it was scuffed hardwood. From the fourteen-foot ceilings, a collection of vibrant material hung from a rope and pulley system so Garrett could change the look and feel of the room with the sweep of an arm. The requisite Christmas props were in one corner with a fireplace backdrop and real mantelpiece, though the flames inside were fake. Some of the backdrops were kitschy, though he’d be the first to admit his affinity for the shoe closet one, the graffiti one, and the bookshelves.
He’d kept it simple not only for budget reasons, but the subjects of the photos were more important than the background. He also liked to shoot on location, and there was no shortage in L.A. of beautiful places to wander, clicking away at his shutter. Seemed silly to spend tens of thousands and box himself inside when the world was at his fingertips.
Not that he could traipse Jackson around outside in the buff.
For this, however, he wanted strategically draped fabric, monochrome, or a single contrasting color, and Jackson.
“Where do you want me? Draped on the couch like the chick in Titanic?” Jackson entered the room wearing a waffle-weave robe Jennica had given him, the white material contrasting beautifully with his tan skin in the subdued lighting.
Garrett tapped his fingers to his lips, considering where to start, his muse whispering to the point where he barely heard Jackson.
“Hmm? Oh, not yet. Question first. How opposed are you to getting dirty?”
Jackson raised an eyebrow, and Garrett’s muse sat up and paid attention. “Dirty like… mud? Because I have to work this afternoon, and mud in my hair might be overkill.” Jackson grinned devilishly. “Or maybe you mean whipped cream and melted chocolate.”
Oh fuck, that would be hot. “Sadly, I have no whipped cream or a chocolate fountain lying around unused.” Garrett managed to keep his voice steady, but barely. “I was thinking paint, but we’ll watch the time. It’s,” he checked his watch. “Ten-thirty now, so we have a good few hours before you’d have to get cleaned up, and I have a shower here you can use.”
Jennica entered the room quietly, standing by to be Garrett’s right hand. “Phones are on outgoing message and the front door is locked, bossman.”
“Will you quit calling me that?”
With wide-eyed innocence only Jennica could pull off, she pouted. “Fine, jerk.”
“Is she going to be in here for this?” Jackson asked, his voice cracking.
Garrett turned his head sharply to study his friend. “Only if you’re comfortable with it. We can do some modest shots first, and see how you feel before we go full frontal.”
“No offense, Jennica,” Jackson offered sheepishly.
“None taken,” she reassured. “Your comfort makes for a better photo, so if you want me to leave at any time, just say the word.” Jackson visibly relaxed.
“Okay, come over here and stand on this mark.” Garrett yanked the curtains along their track, stretching the tension wires of the pulley system to the plain white wall. Jackson did as he was told, and Garrett separated the cobalt blue material from the cluster of other colors. His setup reminded him of the aerialist in Cirque du Soleil La Nouba who wrapped himself in flowing red curtains and sailed around the theater wearing nothing but white pants, his rippling muscles like liquid power beneath his skin as he flew in amazingly graceful positions high above the audience. Garrett wanted that grace in these photos, to show Jackson’s body as sinuously as possible with the help of clinging fabric.
Stepping behind Jackson, Garrett threaded the curtain beneath his arm and over his shoulder, slipping the top half of the robe off as he did so. Then he wrapped it around Jackson’s torso barber-pole style, walking around front to undo the belt on the robe while Jackson stood motionless.
“Tell me if any of this is too tight.” The robe hit the floor just as Garrett pulled the curtain across Jackson’s pelvis, his cock outlined beautifully while still keeping it modest. One more twist around his backside, and Garrett knelt in front of him, carrying the spiral down one leg and flowing across the floor. “Comfortable?” He looked up to see Jackson staring down at him, lips parted and eyes fixed, heat in his gaze. Garrett realized how close his face was to Jackson’s dick, and sat back on his heels.
“Ye—” Jackson’s voice failed, and he cleared his throat. “Yeah. It’s fine.”
The blue was deep enough to approach purple, and Garrett pooled the remaining yardage around Jackson’s feet before taking up his post behind the camera. Through the lens, the image came alive.
“Okay, look off into the distance, not at me. Like you see a thunderstorm far away and the cloud patterns are mesmerizing.” Jackson did as told, and Garrett clicked several shots. “Jennica,” he murmured, keeping his eye in the viewfinder. “Silver reflector, please.”
She moved silently, trained by their former boss, Troy, to disturb as little as possible in the middle of a shoot. Large, silver circular reflector in hand, she knelt opposite the softbox so the light would bounce off the reflector and fill in the shadows up one side of Jackson’s body. The whir of the flash recharging and click of the camera was the only noise for long minutes as Garrett found his shooting angle, emphasizing Jackson’s ripped torso, visible in stripes between the fabric. He and Jennica moved together without speaking, Jackson the axis point around which they rotated. Garrett was taken with the curves of Jackson’s glutes disappearing beneath blue, the bulge of his cock from the side, the clean lines of his collarbones flowing up to an angular jaw with a light spackle of stubble. Subtle, yet powerful, and oh so beautiful.
Garrett had him lie down on a white chaise lounge, not quite posed Titanic style, but not far off. They had to be careful how he moved so the fabric wrapping him wouldn’t shift and give Jennica a show, but Garrett got several good images, Jackson’s heavy lidded eyes unmistakably come hither.
“You comfortable?” Garrett murmured, unwinding Jackson, who held the robe self-consciously. “I mean, ready to go fully naked, or do I need to do one more set with your man bits covered? Or would you like Jennica to leave the room?”
Jackson swallowed, and in a show of bravery, tossed the robe away. Garrett put a hand on his shoulder, not trusting himself to touch anywhere else even as he fought to control his gaze and breathing, then busied himself returning the hanging fabric to its rightful place. When he was shooting, it was easier, the clean lines of the male body and the shift of shadow and light a medium he manipulated for the optimal shot. But this was somehow different than previous nude shoots. The unspoken communication with him and Jackson was rife with heat, and the room disappeared until it was the two of them and the way Garrett wanted Jackson’s body displayed.
He’s a friend. Friend, friend, friend. Landon, Landon, Landon. It didn’t stop him from having memory flashes of Jackson beneath him, wound around him, head thrown back in ecstasy, breathing erratic and needy. That night, Garrett hadn’t been in the frame of mind to study Jackson’s tightly muscled body, but he was solely focused now, and there was no mistaking his animalistic reaction. Given how much Jackson trusted him, how vulnerable Jackson let himself be—especially considering the last few rocky weeks—Garrett made no move to hide his rather visible excitement so they’d be vulnerable together. They were past propriety at this point, though Garrett would remain utterly professional, even if he couldn’t help his body’s reaction.
“I need you wet,” Garrett said.
“Excuse me?” Jackson squeaked, looking both embarrassed and panicked.
Garrett retreated behind his camera once more, fiddling with setting that didn’t need adjusting and willing his semi to fade. Jennica had sprung into action, passing Garrett a spray bottle of warm water.
“Are you cold at all?” he asked, though he knew the answer was no. No shrinkage. Definitely no shrinkage. Growage, maybe.
“I’m fine,” Jackson said, catching on.
Garrett pulled him to the shabby hardwood floors in front of the brick wall and told him to kneel, painfully aware of his crotch’s proximity to Jackson’s lips.
“Arms out and head back,” he mumbled, spraying those lovely muscles with a thin sheen of droplets that would reflect exquisitely. Once Jackson glistened with water, Garrett pulled his lighting rig over, positioning it a foot away and pointed down, as if the light were streaming in a nearby window.
“Okay, reach back and grab your ankles, knees shoulder-width apart.”
“Like this?” Jackson arched backward, pushing his torso and chest out, his cock on display, balls hanging loosely between thighs limned with light. Garret tried not to fixate.
“Yes, just like that. Head back like you’re enjoying the sun. That’s it.” He continued a stream of encouragement for Jackson holding the difficult position long enough to take several photos. “Okay, relax. That was perfect.”
The raw images in his camera took his breath away, and he quickly flipped one to grayscale, unable to stop his gasp. It was quite possibly the most stunning work he’d ever produced. His muse danced giddily as he brought the camera over to show Jackson, walking right by Jennica.
They posed through several more scenarios, lost in the give and take of subject and artist, and all outside cares ceased to exist. Garrett was alive with inspiration.
“It’s twelve-thirty, boss,” Jennica said, knowing his next shoot was at two, and he’d need to have Jackson back in his clothes, the studio reset, and the images from this session downloaded behind a password protected folder on his server before then. “I’ll take that memory card and get started if you want. I know you wanted to do a messy scene.”
Grateful, he handed the card over and took the fresh one from her, popping it into his camera. Before she left, she helped him lay out drop cloths to protect everything from the paint.
“Thanks, Jennica. Best assistant ever,” he said as she moved to the door.
She graced him with a big, toothy smile. “Oh, boss. Those are decent clothes. Might wanna change before you break out the colors.”
Garrett looked down at his Joe’s jeans and one of his favorite button-downs, a salmon-y pink that went well with his skin tone and hair. Shit. There was no way he was risking paint on those clothes.
“Um, Jackson, I’ll be right back.” He slipped from the room and into his office for his gym bag, which held the only spare clothes he had with him, hurriedly changing into an old t-shirt and cutoff sweats.
When he returned, Jackson was sprawled on the chaise lounge, hands folded neatly on his belly and his eyes closed, the picture of relaxation. For a long moment, Garrett admired the way the softbox diffused the light so it caressed more than illuminated, the carefree crook of Jackson’s knee, the clean, pink toes of one foot hanging over the edge of the chaise, his laced fingers and strong, masculine hands, and yes, the sprawl of his cock and balls and the curls in which they nestled. Garrett couldn’t look away.
Without opening his eyes, Jackson spoke. “You just gonna stare at me, or are we going to keep going? Because if you pick staring, I’m going to take a nap.”
What the fuck is wrong with me? This is Jackson, for fuck’s sake. We just started speaking again. Shaking himself, he clapped abruptly, hoping to charge the atmosphere with energy rather than sultry expectation. There was nothing to expect. Except some photos.
“Body paint. Any preference for colors?” Garrett went to the small props cabinet containing a few jars of classic colored paints, the washable, non-toxic kind you found in an elementary school art class.
“Um, the whole rainbow?” Jackson suggested, sitting up and resting his elbows on his knees. Garrett couldn’t identify the look Jackson favored him with, but he didn’t scrutinize too hard, either.
“Oh, I like that idea. Get your pride on, mah brutha,” he sing-songed. Overcompensating. You’re acting like an idiot. He rolled his shoulders and brought the jars over to the chaise, carefully removing the lids as he knelt before Jackson. He dipped his finger in the green and drew a smiley face on Jackson’s kneecap, grinning as he did so. “This reminds me of our shrines at the loft. Something silly and fun. I’m thinking black and white photos with just the paint in color.” Jackson squirmed as Garrett adorned his right bicep with a red peace sign, and decorated the top of his foot with a rainbow. “Stand up,” Garrett said, getting to his feet with a crack of popping knees.
He held the blue and considered his living canvas, then drew a heart over Jackson’s left pec, some of the previous colors mixing for a variegated look. Jackson took one of the jars, orange, and considered himself, then Garrett.
“Drop cloths really secure on everything?”
“Huh?” Garrett was confused, then alarmed as Jackson poured the orange into his hand and patted the front of Garrett’s t-shirt. “Hey! Not on me! I have to take the pictures!” That earned him a red handprint on his cheek. “Oh, you dick.” Garrett kicked over the purple and yellow and bent to slam both palms in the puddles, ducking a blue finger aimed for his forehead in the process. He knelt up and reached around Jackson’s legs, planting a giant handprint on each ass cheek, giggling. With a wild whoop of laughter, he tried to scamper away as Jackson reached around him, a green handprint landing square on his dick, smearing across his shorts.
“Good thing I changed clothes,” he deadpanned, turning around again with his hands up in surrender. “Okay, okay. Stop. I don’t want you so covered in paint we can’t see the designs.” Jackson ran a purple stripe down the bridge of his nose, then backed off, grinning. Garrett, not one to let someone else get the last word, stepped into Jackson and grabbed his cock with a purple hand, grinning. Jackson slapped his wrist.
“Hands off the goods. You got me more than I got you. That’s not fair.”
“Of course it’s fair. You’re naked, and I’m supposed to take the pictures. C’mon, be serious.”
“You were being serious enough for both of us.”
Garrett felt his cheeks color. “I need to wash this off so I don’t get paint on the camera. Just… stand there and try not to smear, okay?”
“Okay. Party pooper.”
“That’s right. My studio, my rules.” He gathered up the jars and recapped them, taking everything into the bathroom in the hall just outside the door, returning a few minutes later mostly clean, except for handprints on his chest and the front of his shorts. Jackson grinned at him.
Once more behind the lens, Garrett twirled his finger. “Turn around and cross your arms over your chest like you’re giving yourself a hug. Awesome.” He clicked away, getting the handprints on Jackson’s ass as well as his tinted hands at his shoulder blades, the swell of muscle distorting the paint. The more into it he got, the more direction he gave Jackson, until he’d forgotten the awkwardness.
This portion of the session was much more relaxed, fun, and full of hilarity as Garrett tried to come up with more and more ridiculous poses. He wasn’t taking the whole scene in, though, only bits and pieces. The painted heart. A toe with just a hint of rainbow above it. Orange hands in mid-flutter as Jackson arched and danced and played. His smile. His warm brown eyes, crinkled shut in laughter or open and shining with amusement. His bright grin. His smiley kneecap. Garrett couldn’t remember having this much fun with a client before, though of course, Jackson was more than a client.
He was having such a good time, it took him longer than normal to place the shouting.
“You can’t go in there! He’s in a session!”
“I own part of this business, too, Jennica, and I’m a very busy man. When I say I need to see Garrett, I expect to see him.” Landon burst into the studio, his steely eyes taking in the scene: paint everywhere, Jackson naked and bearing Garrett’s handprints on his ass and dick, Garrett’s crotch smeared green. “What the hell is going on here?”
***About AJ Rose***
AJ Rose sees people who don’t exist. He imagines events no one else can remember. He tells lies all the time. In other words, he write fiction.