Title: Two Natures
Author: Jendi Reiter
Release Date: September 15th 2016
Genre: LGBT fiction, MM Romance
Two Natures is the coming-of-age story of Julian Selkirk, a fashion photographer in New York City in the early 1990s. His faith in Jesus helped him survive his childhood in the Atlanta suburbs with an abusive alcoholic father, but the church's condemnation of his sexual orientation has left him alienated and ashamed.
Yearning for new ideals to anchor him after his loss of faith, Julian seeks his identity through love affairs with three very different men: tough but childish Phil Shanahan, a personal trainer who takes a dangerous shortcut to success; enigmatic, cosmopolitan Richard Molineux, the fashion magazine editor who gives him his first big break; and Peter Edelman, an earnest left-wing activist with a secret life.
Amid the devastation of the AIDS epidemic and the racial tensions of New York politics, Julian learns to see beyond surface attractions and short-term desires, and to use his art to serve his community.
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Honors: 2016 Rainbow Awards: First Prize, Best Gay Contemporary General Fiction; First Runner-Up, Debut Gay Book Named one of QSPirit's Top LGBTQ Christian Books of 2016
The storm hit when we were about an hour south of the campgrounds. Sheets of rain covered the Chevy's windshield. We crawled along, following the fuzzy glow of the taillights in front of us. Peter searched the AM band for a local station that could give us traffic and weather. I refrained from saying that we could see both of those by looking out the window. There's the difference between us: he likes to know that he can't do anything about a situation, while I just assume it.
Up ahead, flashing lights and a row of orange cones marked a lane closed off by a wreck we couldn't make out. Peter was all for pulling off the highway and finding a shortcut via the local roads. Phil's presence made me less adventurous. We had to get this right. If he'd been awake to vote, though, he would have sided with Indiana Jones, so I resigned myself to studying the map for the shortest possible detour. "Hey, did you know there's a city in New York called Sodom?"
"Is it anywhere near Coxsackie?"
We bounced along winding roads through tired towns that blended together in the rain: another white clapboard with a sagging porch, another vintage Pepsi sign over a liquor-store marquee ("happy 21st birthday Amanda!"), more black and white cows grazing around a metal silo. I never went in for that Depression-documentary stuff. People who wear overalls deserve their privacy.
After half an hour we seemed to have outrun the rain, but finding our way back to the highway was another story. We stopped for coffee and pie in a diner with turquoise vinyl siding, where the waitress gave us directions to the campsite. I could have sworn one of the truckers at the lunch counter was cruising me. If I hadn't been with my boys, I might have gone for him, and probably gotten myself murdered. It's not a good idea to die luridly if no one knows you're a celebrity. I doubted whether the local Walgreen's carried Femme NY.
We crested the hill leading into the campgrounds as a yellow-gray sunset was filtering through the pines. Peter surveyed the scene and frowned. "Guys, I don't think this is it."
"Nah, I saw the sign, just like the waitress told us — Deer Mountain Nature Preserve," Phil said.
"But it's not how I remember it, from when we used to come here — I thought there was a lake, and this little bunkhouse with showers."
"Maybe we're on the other end."
"Does it really matter?" I asked impatiently. "Nature is nature, right?"
"And why is it called a nature preserve? Maybe we're not even allowed in here," Peter fretted.
"Cool, we'll be, like, anarchist squatters," Phil said. Thus outvoted, Peter pulled the Chevy into a broad clearing with a view of the mountains, where we would pitch our tents. He'd brought two,
in case Phil and I wanted some privacy. The ground was damp and spongy under a fragrant carpet of pine needles. I sprayed a mist of bug repellent all around us. In the forest, you think it's quiet, but it really isn't, once you let go of expecting to hear human voices. Phil had brought a battery-operated radio that played staticky doo-wop oldies (the only station we could find out there) while I built a campfire.
The sky slowly turned from purple-gray to black. We drank Cokes because Peter didn't like mixing beer and weed, and cooked hot dogs on sticks over the sputtering fire. Phil tried to get away without eating anything with his evening pills. "I thought you always had an appetite for this," I said, waggling a plump hot dog in front of his face. We ate that one from both ends and met in the middle, and Peter sang the Italian-restaurant song from "Lady and the Tramp", and I laughed so hard the soda came out of my nose.
The radio was off. If we strained our eyes, we could see faint stars that vanished into the cloud cover when we looked directly at them. "I want to try and find the lake," Peter said.
"It's too cold to swim," I said. "We should have come sooner."
"I just want you guys to see it."
A nearly-full moon had risen, cresting and sinking in the swells of clouds that drifted across its light. That and our flashlights helped us find a marked trail. There was no reason to think that it led to any lake, but we were buzzed and lucky to be there, and why not hope our luck would hold?
Phil slapped at the mosquitos that were drawn to our flashlight beams. "So there, suckers — my blood is toxic."
"Must you think about that every minute?" I said.
"I got a right."
Peter slowed down to put his arm around my shoulders as we trudged uphill on the winding trail. My tense breathing eased and I began to enjoy the trek in spite of myself. The spindly pines swayed above us in the wind. Our slow progress through the dark was hypnotic. Peter hummed a tune under his breath and we joined in intermittently to stay focused. I heard Phil cough a couple of times but he didn't stop walking or look back at us, so I couldn't do anything.
The trail ended at the edge of a rocky outcropping overlooking a valley. Silver light flashed below us, a fast-moving stream tumbling over glistening rocks. To our left, a thicker, darker gray cloudbank was building up, edged with moonglow.
I reached out to pull Phil closer to me so we were all holding each other. Maybe it was the whisper of the stream we heard, or maybe it was too far away and we only heard the trees tossing in the wind. Warm from the climb, I spread my top-layer sweatshirt on the ground for Phil and me to sit on. We leaned against each other and kissed, while Peter sat cross-legged on Phil's other side, holding his hand.
"Got your camera?" Phil whispered. "Like you ever don't."
"Too dark…besides, right now…let's just be here."
"Yeah, I know what you mean."
Oh, those blue eyes. I saw you, Phil, I was inside you, closer than sex, clearer than words. And you in me. I hope, I believe. In the end, you trust it or you don't, the ground under your feet, the air in your lungs, and something surrounding you that's more than particles of heat and scent and skin.
The distant sky rumbled. A small flock of dark birds swooped and scattered into the valley. Phil sneezed. I took off my other sweatshirt and wrapped it around him. He didn't object. Peter stretched out on the ground, propping his chin in his hands, and looked down at the stream with a sigh. "I guess this is as far as we're going to get."
"It's all right," Phil said. "I'm happy here."
"Good, 'cause we're going to leave you here," I deadpanned.
He slugged my arm. "Hey, you promised me an ice floe."
"What's the big deal about the lake?" I asked, since Peter was still acting glum.
"It's where he lost his virginity," Phil teased.
Peter rolled over and swatted at him. "Ah, screw you."
"Is it?" I pressed him.
"For your information, I lost my virginity in the back of a comic-book store in Brooklyn Heights. And I bet I was ahead of either of you guys, too."
I wolf-whistled. Phil said, "I moved in with Ted, that was my first boyfriend, when I was sixteen, but we'd been doing it since the year before. He worked construction, like me, and the first time, we were fixing up this old lady's attic and we all of a sudden got all over each other, and when she complained about the noise we told her she had squirrels." Peter and I laughed. Phil looked expectantly at me.
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About the Author
Jendi Reiter's books are guided by her belief that people take precedence over ideologies. In exploring themes of queer family life, spiritual integration, and healing from adverse childhood experiences, her goal is to create understanding that leads to social change. Two Natures is her first novel; a sequel is in the works. Her four published poetry books include Bullies in Love (Little Red Tree, 2015) and the award-winning chapbook Barbie at 50 (Cervena Barva Press, 2010). She is the co-founder and editor of WinningWriters.com, an online resource site for creative writers.
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