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Under the Surface · Original Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
Show rules for this event
Be As Gay As You Want
Tanya, the cashier at the Mobil station, wears ten colors in her hair.

Late at night, clutching her pillow, Julie smiles and names each one.

But during the day, Julie opens her notebook and tries to turn the technicolor memories into poetry—blue like X, red deeper than Y, the pink of Z—but finding the right words becomes as futile as high school calculus. In those moments, all she can think about is the fluid motion of Tanya’s arm as she rings up a bag of M&Ms. Share-sized. A Hallmark movie in the making.

Julie will take what she can get, fairy tale romance or not. Born on a Kansas corn farm, and transplanted into the gay capital of New England for a monthlong writing fellowship, she’s learned to pick her battles.

Provincetown exists outside of reality, or outside of her reality, at least. She’s never seen so many rainbow flags on one street, never seen so many bald men holding hands—never seen a store sell weed grinders, gallon bottles of lube, and peeing Calvin t-shirts in the same aisle.

But the highlight of her days are the midnight trips to the Mobil station. A quest to feed two addictions: one, to multicolored chocolate pills; and two, to Tanya’s smile.

Julie feels like the female James Bond of legend as she prowls, ducking between the cookie and candy aisles without a sound. She takes as long as possible to pick up her one item, sneaking glances through the shelves at the register where Tanya sits, texting. She looks at Tanya, unless Tanya is looking at her, because Julie is not ready to make eye contact. Someday she will be. Just not now. Or ever.

Until one night, as she reads the back of the Lays Classic bag for the tenth time that week, Julie hears a voice in her ear: “M&Ms again, girl?”

Julie yelps and jumps to attention. Tayna is within reach, leaning against a shelf, arms crossed and all ten colors in sight. She has Julie trapped in the aisle, stuck between the potato chips and the beer cooler. There’s a thick silence between them until Tanya clicks her tongue, which hits Julie like a whip to the ass.

“Yes?” Julie tries, realizing she’s crushing her bag of candy nearly hard enough to burst the air out of it. She stuffs the bag in her pocket—then thinks that probably looks like she’s trying to shoplift, and takes it back out. “They’re good.” She makes herself laugh.

“Did we go to high school together or something?”

Julie imagines sitting with Tanya under the bleachers. “No, I don’t think so.”

“Yeah, me either, what with that ack-sent of yours,” Tanya says, twisting her salty Boston vowels into a mock-Southern drawl. Julie’s face burns and Tanya smirks. “Just seemed like the simplest explanation as to why you keep stalking me.”

Stammering before she even knows what she’s going to say, Julie spits out, “I wasn’t.”

“I know I’m hot as hell, but...” Tanya flips a blue braid out of her eyes, then, still grinning, points to Julie’s face. “And you’re red as hell.”

“I mean, of course it is!” Julie says, eyes on Tanya’s lips. “You’re accusing me of—I don’t know, but something.”

“You’ve got a nice chin.”

That strikes Julie like a tranquilizer dart. She touches her chin, sharp and bony, as if feeling it for the first time. The last time someone commented on her chin, it was her brother, pointing out a pimple. “Thanks,” she says. “Uh. You too.”

“Y’know,” Tanya says, leaning in, “my shift only goes from 9PM to 1AM. I’ve got the rest of the day free.” She pauses. “The rest of the night, too.”

Julie tries not to explode. “Uh-huh.”


“Is this your first time doing this?”

“Yes,” says Julie. She has no idea what this is.

Tanya giggles, and Julie ascends. “Well, country girl, if you’re free tomorrow morning”—she waited for Julie to nod—“how about we meet up at KoHi Café. Ten o’clock? Bring your chin.”

“You bring your hair,” Julie shoots back.

Tanya snorts and walks away. “I’ll try to remember,” she calls over her shoulder, before her rainbow locks disappear behind a shelf of salsa jars.

And Julie just stands there, still stuck in place between the potato chips and the beer, legs shaking and mouth drying up. She has to take a moment just staring at her reflection in the cooler, trying to shake herself back into reality—then she lets out a way-too-girly squeak and dances in place.

“You gonna buy those M&Ms or what?” Tanya shouts across the store.

Julie nearly falls on her face, but catches herself and scurries over to the counter.

Gav keeps a quote above their mirror, scribbled out onto a thin strip of paper: “Be as gay as you want.” And another below their mirror, in crimson glitter ink: “Aliens don’t give a fuck about the gender binary.”

They repeat the words under their breath, quiet whispers to the toothpaste-stained sink. Gav hasn’t stepped into a church since seventh grade at Ursuline Academy—the same place they’d been laughed at when they asked the nuns to call them Gavin instead of Gabrielle, the same place they’d been told that not wearing makeup was the first step in dying unloved and alone—and this is a more fervent prayer, a more holy sacrament than any priest can give them.

They repeat the words as they swipe the electric razor over their scalp once, twice, three times, letting scraggly blond bangs fall like dead leaves. Gav is nearly 25, this isn’t their first rodeo; soon the sink is flooded with hair, and they can feel the air sweep clean over their head.

It’s become a ritual at this point, for Gav to shave their head at the start of every summer, right before the tourists start pouring in. Around the locals, a shaved head is passé. But around the tourists? Tourists, those comfortable white Democrats, watching Gav like they're a new species—an alien, come to destroy the world.

And Gav lets them watch. They smile, hold their bald head high. These tourists, they’re never quite sure what box to place Gav in. Just the way Gav likes it. They're too cute to stay trapped in a box anyway.

Ten years after Tony puts on lipstick and his uncle punches him in the chest, he goes to the Methodist Church yard sale and stuffs a 50¢ bikini—skimpy, lacy, tight—into his pockets when no one’s looking. It’s easier than buying from Walmart; this way, he doesn’t have to look a cashier in the eye. No, no cashier. Just Jesus.

But that’s okay, because he’s out to lunch with his boss, and while usually that would be terrifying and awful and soul-killing, this time he’s wearing the bikini under his clothes and he’s never felt better. Never. It’s a nice nylon material, and wearing it, Tony feels like he can take on the world.

He wonders occasionally, as he chats with his employer about real estate accounts and market projections, if wearing women’s underwear makes him weird. If the rush of adrenaline he gets whenever he moves and feels the bikini pinch against his skin is wrong—if it’s gay, even. But it doesn’t take much effort to crush up the thoughts and throw them away.

He’s straight as hell. Back in high school, he dated, like, twenty girls and even kissed three of them. Three! That had to put him within the Top 500 straight males in America, at least.

And besides, girls wear jeans all the time—why can’t he wear a bikini?

In twenty minutes, Terence has used up a third of his phone battery just from turning the screen on and off and on and off and on again, waiting for the text message that will give him a heart attack. At the insistence of his roommate, he's spent the last week cruising on this new blind dating app, looking for a hookup. It had been nerve wracking at first—he'd seen The Craigslist Killer enough times to develop a lifetime fear of internet dating—but once he sat down and really got to it, finding a match was easy.

So now he stands in front of the homemade ice cream shop, waiting for his date—a Patriots logo avatar with the name Kevin7—to arrive.

Terence spins around and checks his outfit in the shop window; just something casual, a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. He doubted it was enough, but his roommate said it made him look like a nonchalant sex god—an African king, powerful, benevolent, sensual.

He didn't know about being a king, or even a god, but the holiest people were usually virgins...

His phone goes off.

Standing in front of bike shop.. u here?

Terence grins and looks up. The bike shop is just across the street, but surrounded by people, both tourists and otherwise. He texts Kevin back—"Yes! Wave, I'll find you"—and looks for the hand.

It doesn't take long to find the waving hand, connected to the torso of a giant. Kevin is tall, skinny, white, like a birch tree. His blond hair has been cut down short, and he wears a deep purple v-neck that exposes a chest of taut muscles.

Taking a sharp breath, Terence realizes this is his last chance to back out, to save himself from internet serial killer death—but soon releases that breath and walks forward.

Kevin keeps waving, even as Terence approaches, even as Terence stops right next to him. It's only when Terence grins and says, "Kevin7?" that the human birch tree jumps and looks at Terence with deer-in-headlights eyes.

"Hey," he finally says, voice just an octave or two too low to be helium. He's frowning. "Terence?"

"Yep! Uh—" Terence wipes his hand off on his jeans, then offers it. "Great to finally meet you."

Kevin stares at the hand like a child stares a broccoli suddenly dumped onto their plate, but after too long, returns the gesture. "Hey," he says through a plastic laugh.

Immediately, Terence feels himself on the edge. He tries to hold up his smile. "Everything okay? You get here alright?"

Kevin freezes for a moment more before covering his face with both hands, giggling, and squirming in place like a gay worm. "God," he says, shaking his head. "Sorry, it's just—this is gonna sound super silly, I'm sorry, really."

"It's no problem," says Terence, waving away the excuse like he's shooing away a fly. He braces himself. "Tell me."

"I just—" Kevin grins, flashing his shining white teeth. "I didn't know you were gonna be black!"

A moment of silence. Terence makes himself laugh. "Oh, yeah? Haha!"

"Yeah, I mean, I guess I should have known from the name, but—I don't think I've ever met a gay black guy before!"

Half of Terence's friends are gay black men. But suddenly he's imagining himself on an endangered species list—an exotic find, a bucket list item crossed off. He nods.

"I mean, not that it's a problem, y'know?" Kevin scoffs and gestures to the hundreds of other white men that surround them. "I'm not one of those 'No blacks, no fats, no femmes' guys. No way. This'll just be a new experience for me!"

A lot of words are curdling under Terence's tongue. But he comes up with a different one: "Cool."

"C'mon," says Kevin, winking. "Let's grab some ice cream. You've got no idea how much I love chocolate." He intones the last word, milking it for all its meaning.

Terence makes himself follow after. "Yeah. Me too."

Spence 😜

Friday 5:26 PM

hey 😉

hey ❤️❤️

did u get that pic I sent last night


god you are so ducking hot


how come u didn’t send one back

too busy 😉👅💦

with what

the fuck you think????


selfish 😤

you’re gonna be at Ortega’s tomorrow right??

Kim said the party’s backon

she’s making vegan chicken wings

I can show you something after that 😉😉

whats a vegan chicken wing


something with cauliflower

but that pic was like yes

woulv’ve been even better without the shirt

come to the party like that? I can show you off

how does that sound?

so good

what else are you gonna do to me

once we get out of there Im gonna rip off those tiny shorts


gonna grab you and make you beg

maybe I won’t even wait until we leave

maybe we’ll do this in front of everyone

destroy your ass while theyre all watching

god im so friggin hard

how hard?

5:40 PM


5:51 PM


6:07 PM


sorry my mom made me go wash the dishes

super hard 💦

Mark has no memory of last night—just an aching back and a hangover fiercer than a nor’easter. His artisan espresso is cooling quickly. Sitting in the back of Joe’s Coffee, head buried in his arms, he appreciates the early morning quiet. It’s barely past 7AM; the only people up this early are the fitness freaks, one of the few cliques in town that Mark has no experience with. None during the day, at least.

He cringes deeper into his arms when the entrance bell jingles. Hopefully they’ll take care to use as few words as possible when ordering their artisan latte.

The chair across from him squeaks against the floor. “Had a good night?” says a voice that’s more scrap metal than silk. “You do this to yourself, y’know.”

“I’m innocent,” Mark replies without looking up. “I’m just having a good time.”

“The road to hell is paved with good times.” Joe gives a husky giggle. “And cute twinks.”

Mark rolls his eyes, but can’t hold back the laugh. Joe knows his fair share about good times, even if it takes a warehouse’s worth of booze to get him tipsy—he’s bear big, his arms as thick as telephone poles. As for the twinks—it’s been a long time since the two of them hung out.

Joe’s beard rustles as he strokes it, as if he were some sort of Harvard genius, and not some hairy fuck with a taste for leather. “So,” he says, leaning in close enough that the table creaks under his weight, “who was he?”

Mark snorts. “You don’t know him.”

“I know a lot more people than you know I know.”

“I know that you don’t know as many people as you think you know, Mr. Socialite,” says Mark. He shrugs. “’Sides, was just a one time thing.”

“You and your one time things,” Joe scolds, sounding just like his mother. He sits back, and his belly jiggles when he laughs—Mark remembers without looking. “Always the same.”

Mark manages to lift his head just enough to peek up at him. “With rare exceptions.”

And Joe becomes a sunburned walrus, blushing under his beard. With another giggle, he takes Mark’s coffee cup. “Lemme grab you another, Marky-Marks.”

Mark smiles and collapses back into his arms. “Grab me an Advil while you’re at it.”
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#1 · 2
· · >>Cassius
Now this is a great hook. Two sentences. Two characters. A relationship between them (and possibly the other kind of relationship too, later on). I already know so much about the story just from this!

Probably not quite my type of story. The romance feels a bit too direct, and I'm not really fond of the "stalker with a crush" thing. But that's just personal bias, I'll still remember this opening, and hypothetically recommend it to someone who'd be more into it. Maybe I'll go back and read the rest of this later. Because the hook is so effective, dangit.

It's a little unclear how old they are. My first impression is that Julie is in high school, but then Tanya says something that implies she's already graduated high school? A monthlong writing scholarship, like a summer program or something?

And Gav lets them watch. They smile, hold their bald head high. These tourists, they’re never quite sure what box to place Gav in.

This part gets kinda confusing with the they/them pronouns referring to multiple sets of characters.
#2 · 3
· · >>Miller Minus
With a title like that, who can resist opening up this story?

Full disclosure up front: This story is not on my slate, but if it ends up on it, I am abstaining on this story, for reasons I will get into later.

Much like Gav, I'm not quite sure what box to put this entry into. I feel slightly mislead, as this is very much story about the entire LGBT spectrum along with some other associated acts than just being gay. While I understand that contemporaneously these communities are seen to be unified, and in some cases (like Gav), it's sort of difficult to determine where one starts and the other ends, I can't help but feel that the story loses a bit of focus as a result.

There's an obvious politicizing to the plights of these characters that I don't think is unwarranted or out of place, but it seems to be a little too on the nose and broadly cutting towards for my tastes. In particular, I think the interaction between Kevin and Terence needs to be handled with a little more finesse. Again, I don't think the angle you're going for is necessarily untrue to life, but you're just so blatant and afford Kevin absolutely zero humanity or self-awareness—a veritable strawman for your point. But then again, Kevin is a Patriots fan, so I guess he's just naturally a dumb shithead who's never seen a black man in his life.

I'm trying to walk on eggshells as I say this, but I can't really find a better (i.e. more politically correct) way of saying this: this story isn't written for a general audience. I'm not saying that is a fault of the story or an objective summation of its values, but I am saying that this story wasn't written in a way to appeal to people who are outside the LGBT community. It reads very much like a writer from within a certain community (in this case, the gay community), wrote this story for people in that community. As I reader, I feel like an outsider looking in, almost unwelcome. It's as if I myself walked into a gay bar—I feel it's not a place meant for me, which again, I don't want to see as an indictment of the work itself, but it does affect my enjoyment of the piece. That being said, it's not like I'm some ignorant rube with no experience or understanding of gay people (I'm writing this on a site dedicated to MLP fanfiction, for chrissake), and I regularly consume media that depicts the conflicts of homosexuals, so I don't want to be construed as coming from the angle: "gays are icky, and I don't like their stories."

So, author, I'm not going to make assumptions about your intent here. If you are looking to write a LGBT piece for LGBT people, I think you do an adequate enough job, although not being LGBT myself, nor really particularly knowledgeable about that inner workings of their community, I would consult people who are first. If you wanted to write for a more general audience, you need to do a bit more with the characters in order to make them relatable to the layman.

The first segment you present is by far the best because we get the most insight into the mental states of the characters, and understand their personal conflicts. Gav, Tony, and Mark are all underwritten in such a way that their grapples with identity are more informed characteristics than demonstrated ones, and part of that is due to the vignette style you're employing, but I believe you can keep that style and still make your character's conflicts and emotions palpable to general audience. In its current state, you're so strapped for content that the circumstances of their situation and sexuality overtake them as characters—they're cutouts of people rather than actual people. As I've said, for someone who is more familiar with the emotional state of being like those characters and can project themselves easier into that role, I think this works perfectly fine, but for someone who has no conceptualization of what it's like to want to cross-dress or the feelings that come with it, for instance, it won't do anything for them.

You definitely have room to grow this idea, and an easy way to do this is just to add more scenes. You don't have to use Gav, Tony, Mark, Terence, Tanya, etc., just once! You can have all these short little vignettes of them doing things, hey, maybe they some of them even meet each other. Who knows?

The prose needs to be a bit more polished. >>Haze already mentions the issue with pronoun usage in Gav's scene, but I think structuring in general is a pretty consistent issue. You have a tendency to trip over yourself trying to find exactly what you want to describe or simply shift focus mid-paragraph, and it's a bit disorienting. Ideas don't quite transition as logically or cleanly how you'd want them to, and I want to say it is partially due to you rushing. Take, for example, this paragaph:

Julie feels like the female James Bond of legend as she prowls, ducking between the cookie and candy aisles without a sound. She takes as long as possible to pick up her one item, sneaking glances through the shelves at the register where Tanya sits, texting. She looks at Tanya, unless Tanya is looking at her, because Julie is not ready to make eye contact. Someday she will be. Just not now. Or ever.

There are many ways in which the presentation of this paragraph could be optimized, and one of them would be to consistently employ the "female James Bond" with descriptors her actions. Verbs and phrases that connote "spy-like" behavior. But the very next sentence opens on her pausing to pick up her item, which doesn't immediately relate to that idea until you get to the participle phrase (sneaking), and even then, the way she does it is not very "spy-like." Some flavor here could go a long way. Then we have Julie looking at Tanya, but you switch focus to talk about how Julie isn't read to make eye contact. This is a completely separate idea and tone from when the paragraph opens. Feeling Like James Bond: suave, confident, sneaky, agile; Not Making Eye Contact: anxious, avoidant, embarrassed, scared.

Which is not to say you can't have these two ideas, but smashing them together into one paragraph without cleanly transitioning between the two distinct thoughts and emotions makes it a tonal mess. If you presented this in two paragraphs, with Julie first acting like a James Bond LARPer in the first paragraph, and to have it be undercut when she tries to look at Tanya in the second, you'd have a much richer serious of interactions.

On an unrelated note, the "sexting" scene goes on maybe just a couple lines too long. If the formatting were changed to be more traditionally displayed, I think the number of lines would be fine, but because of how you've described to use the "quote" function, the spaces make it appear much longer than it actually is, and as a result, seems to drag despite it's rather short length. The punchline got a chuckle out of me, although I do think it stretches my suspension of disbelief that a person would actually write "mom made me go do dishes" in the middle of a sexting session.

I'm not sure if the final scene is supposed to be communicating anything in particular other than a sort of a cute, warm sentiment. The whole thing is very "lit-ficcy" as Chief Minister of Genre Writing AndrewRogue would say, and I'm not opposed this being just be a "Day in The Life" kind of story, but again, just a little more content to get that across would do you a world of good.

That being said, I sort of liked this entry. There are bits and pieces of it that I do rather like, but at the same time, I feel as though I'm being pushed away rather than brought in. Again, like an outsider. So at the end of the day, I'm just not sure what to make of it.
#3 · 2
Review written from a phone, so pardon the brevity.

I have mixed feelings about this story. On the one hand, the execution is very solid. It has a strong hook, consistently good characterization, evocative language, and an understanding of how to build empathy with its characters. It will probably end up near the top of my slate just for that.

The problem is that it's barely a story. It is a collection of character vignettes, and all those character vignettes are well done and I like the characters in them, ultimately this doesn't have a lot of depth. That's not a bad thing necessarily, but this feels more like an editorial or a writing exercise than a property story.

10 out of 10 for execution, 6 out of 10 for ambition. Won't top my slate but will be near the top.
#4 ·
I had to think long and hard about why this story made me uncomfortable, because there's two distinct possibilities that could cause that and I had to make sure it wasn't either of them. Thankfully, it's not.

This is obviously a story meant to challenge the reader, which is one of the toughest stories to really nail, and I think there should be credit where it's due for writing something so crazy, crazy ambitious. Unfortunately, on the whole I didn't feel challenged so much as preached to.

Sorry to get political here (you asked for it!), but I've always felt that for anyone who doesn't understand the LGBT community, the best thing a member of that community can do is to reach across the aisle. That of course requires the "other side" to reach back, allowing everyone to lock hands, pull each other in and live in that sweet, sweet harmony, but I digress. The point I'm trying to make is that this story feels less like an outstretched hand and more... just waving the rest of us away, I guess. It's one-sided, and while it doesn't show everyone in a fantastic light (looking at you, Kevin), it's got nothing from the other side of the aisle, and without that it feels rather self-indulgent. Actually, >>Cassius puts it better—it's not written for the general audience. Maybe if there were more, if you'll allow me to use the word, "traditional" characters in this story (I would have said "straight", but for Tony) that interact with the personalities you're trying to showcase? If you're trying to challenge that "traditional" frame of mind, then shouldn't it be in the story? I don't know if that would work; this topic is super delicate already without turning it into a story meant to challenge.

From a technical standpoint, the writing is really fun and engaging! My only note is that the present tense approach may have let you down a little bit. I found it off-putting that a writing style notorious for really engrossing the reader into the action—the here and now—is being used whilst quickly jumping around to entirely different stories. It could just be me, but I thought I'd let you know.

And as a final note, I just wanted to point out that while the first two lines are excellent, I was put under the impression that these two were in bed together. It was a tiny stumble, but I would recommend adding that she was alone, perhaps, or that she's counting the colours in her head, to really drive it home that she's fantasizing.

Thanks for the read and good luck!
#5 ·
I came away from all of this with just one thought: "What was the point of all that?"

I get it, the material is supposed to be gutsy and point things out and maybe offend a right wing nutbar or two. But... is it anything beyond that? I'm not seeing a cohesive plot from beginning to end, just a bunch of seemingly random short stories bound together by a taste for the so-called 'not normal'. Don't get me wrong, each individual section is good by itself as a thought piece, but only the opening scene really worked to me because it was the only one with a clear story from beginning to end.

All of that said, I love your sense of humor, author.
#6 · 2
There's a lot of great humor here, and some of the tiny details – Julie nearly squeezing the air out of the bag of M&Ms – are just perfect. The writing and the voices are spot on. Terence's scene felt a little too pat, like, "Here's the moral point I'm making, and I'm going to punch you in the face with it until you get it," but that was the only real misfire of the bunch.

Seeing this not make the finals hurts, but I also have to agree with some of the other commenters who feel there's nothing really tying these scenes together except their theme. Vignettes are good, but without some overriding sense of progression I'm not sure they tell a complete story. I'm trying to be more forgiving lately with what I consider a 'complete' story, but even with the relaxed standards I'm trying to enforce this still seems a bit disconnected.

Still, I wish it'd made the finals on the strength of the writing alone. Sorry, Dubs.
#7 · 2
tl;dr: A solid set of romantic vignettes that seriously got robbed.

I wanted to disagree a bit with Cassius. While I do feel this story is intended for a specific community, I didn't much feel put out or kept at arm's length by the story. Yes, the romances have some LGBTQ+ specific stuff. Yes, Gav's vignette is a bit weird to me (thought not wholly unfamiliar). But, in the end, the core emotions all resonate in familiar and relateable fashions to me.

It is possible that, thanks to cultural positioning this is the case, but eh?

Anyhow, I think the biggest problem is that you lead with your best foot. This is not to say any of the vignettes are bad (though some are definitely weaker or feel like they fall outside the broad boundaries you have setup), just that you lead with the most compelling one and none of hte others quite reach that. Tanya and Julie are charming and their little mess about is very pleasant to read. The text conversation is similarly fun, but not quite as good. The rest, while they have their plusses, are just not as interesting. Again, not to say that they are bad, just that, pound for pound, they don't provide as much emotional weight. Some of this is likely not lining up quite with the emotions (Gav) and some is just not having a solid enough arc, I think.

Still, it is fun and solidly written and really should have made the cut. =(