“The Curtain Store” by Anthony McDonald from Best Gay Romance 2012 (Cleis Press). Edited by Richard Labonté.

It’s a little strange, but I’m going to start with the fourth* story in this collection because I’ve already reviewed the first three for previous anthologies. “Gomorrahs of the Deep, a Musical Coming Someday to Off-Broadway” by Steve Berman, number 365/80 of this project, was reviewed as part of his third collection of short stories, Red Caps: New Fairy Tales for Out of the Ordinary Readers (Lethe Press, 2014). “Charming Princes” by Jamie Freeman was 365/26, part of Best Gay Romance 2013 (Cleis Press). “The Prisoner” by CC Williams, also in Best Gay Romance 2013 (Cleis Press), was number 365/21.

First of all, how much fun is it to encounter a story about a pair of theatre administrators who first met when they were technicians (or as the story calls them “casuals”)? As regular readers of this blog will know, I was a theatre technician myself for two decades. I loved this glimpse of life on the other side of the pond.

This story had what I consider to be the perfect mix of heart and hormones, too. Tim and Charlie are horny teens when they first meet, and understandably more cautious when theirs paths cross again nine years later. Their fear of revealing too much, of being wrong about each other’s intentions, then and now, is palpable. There’s a lot at stake if they get it wrong. Each is fearful of being rejected, and getting hurt physically and/or emotionally.

While it’s true that it’s a relief when they do, finally, speak their truths and discover they are still on the same page, it needs to be said that it’s also an opportunity:

Neither of us had brought condoms: it was a business meeting we’d come to London for, or so we thought. And we didn’t want to interrogate each other with uncomfortable questions, possibly to hear answers we didn’t want…

So they limit their interaction to practices that are safe.

We lay clasped together…and did exactly what we’d done on the curtain pile all those years before.

A few simple words; a powerful message for a story to convey, and yet one that doesn’t get conveyed nearly enough. It’s a lesson we all—myself included—could learn.

When better than on World AIDS Day?

*It’s actually the fifth story in the book. The fourth one was also new to me, but was accidentally skipped here. It is reviewed next.