“Love Taps” by Mark G. Harris from Fool for Love: New Gay Fiction (Cleis Press, 2009).

Sullivan’s boyfriend of the past three years, Chuck, is an extrovert who can strike up a conversation with anyone, anywhere. A would-be DJ, a month ago he finally got the break he’s been looking for career-wise, landing a job with air time. The only trouble is they had to move to the middle of nowhere, and he’s on air in the middle of the night. Since the move the two have been not so much living together as trading shifts in their apartment.

The titular “love taps” are the pranks Chuck begins pulling on Sullivan that keep him up most of the night. It doesn’t help matters when he retaliates; it only escalates things. Exhausted by day, lonesome at night, and scared all the time, Sullivan becomes convinced that Chuck is about to leave him.

I worked in the field of Theatre for Young Audiences for two decades. Here’s a fact: when young men are moved by emotion, when something gets through their defenses and makes them feel, more often than not they push back against that intrusion. They feign boredom, or mock, or sneer. To keep their vulnerability a secret they attempt to misdirect everyone’s attention by throwing things or starting fights with those around them. Chuck and Sullivan do the same thing: pranking one another to mask their mutual fear that the changes to their living situation will usher in the demise of their relationship. It’s a shame, because we get little glimpses of the way things once were between them, and it was pretty great.

Thank god one of them finally has the good sense, or maturity, to express what he’s feeling.