All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
The following work is not endorsed or associated with any companies mentioned as part of the story, including Craigslist, Twitter, Facebook and Grindr.
CLASSIFIED CONNECTION Shakespir EDITION Copyright © 2017 Victoria Zagar. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For more information, write to
Cover designed by Victoria Zagar, using photos from Pixabay.com
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Aron chewed his nails as he waited for the train to arrive. The press of people waiting for the subway train were oblivious to his inner turmoil. His Craigslist ad had finally yielded a result that didn’t scare him witless. A few texts later and they’d agreed to meet in real life to see if they had a connection.
“You can leave him at the station if you don’t like what you see. There’s no obligation,” Dan had warned him.
As Aron pulled a sliver of nail from the quick of his middle finger, a horn signaled the approach of a train. The mass of humanity around him perked up a bit, people jostling for position in hopes of getting a seat. Aron slipped to the back of the crowd, letting the throng edge closer to the train. He wasn’t getting on. He wanted to blend in, so he could walk away if the guy seemed like a creeper.
The train pulled up, sides shiny and red. Windows fled, faces blurring before his eyes. Was it that guy? Or that one? Definitely not the cute Korean guy with his headphones on. The train’s brakes screeched and a hiss of air sounded as the carriages halted. Doors opened, letting people pour out of the carriage. The wave of people fled towards the light, spreading out across stairwells and escalators as they headed up to street level.
Aron found himself leaning up against a supporting pillar as the doors closed and the crowd thinned. Suppose the man saw him and changed his mind? He was skinny—too skinny, in his opinion—and barely looked eighteen, despite the fact he was twenty-two. Wispy, chestnut hair formed a mop on his head, and stylish silver-framed glasses augmented his poor vision.
The older man who stepped off the train right before the doors closed was not at all what Aron expected, yet somehow he knew that he was the guy from the ad. There was something dangerous about the glint in his steel eyes. Stubble covered his chin, and grey hair covered his head, flecked with black where age hadn’t yet stolen all the pigment. He had to be in his late forties or early fifties—older than his e-mail and string of texts had suggested—but he was not unattractive.
Aron had dated all kinds of guys, looking for someone he could forge a lasting connection with, but none of those relationships had worked out. He tired of getting pity fucks from Dan to feel a warm body in his bed at night. Grindr was only a little better—the hookups he’d had there were less than satisfying, to say the least. Guys always said that he wasn’t as hot in person as he was in his picture. Or they wanted to trade dick pics.
It might have been less of a problem if he actually had one.
His Craigslist classified ad—his last ditch effort, as Dan liked to call it—had laid it all out in the open. Transman seeking boyfriend material. Serious inquiries only. Looking for a relationship. Dan had seemed more than a little leery of him putting the truth out there. “Let me come with you,” he’d pleaded. “I’m worried you won’t be safe. Or he’ll be some weirdo with a kink who ditches and leaves you.”
I’ll never leave you, his voice had pleaded. Aron could only wish he was actually attracted to Dan. He would have been a good guy to love, but his heart had sent him to the friend-zone without permission. They had no chemistry in bed together. There was no passion, no spark.
It was a huge fucking shame, in Aron’s opinion.
The man from the train seemed unsure as he took a second glance at Aron. The people around them seemed to disappear, narrowing down the odds by leaving their path. Even the nearby bench emptied out, leaving Aron feeling exposed.
To Aron’s surprise, the stranger sat on the bench, pulled out a book, and started to read.
Finally feeling safe enough to approach, Aron grit his teeth and sat down next to him. He pulled his phone out, fumbling with it and checking his Twitter feed. He ran out of material and swiped down to refresh the list with an audible pop. One new tweet popped up: Dan, posting a picture of them together in school. Aron closed the app, irked that Dan would be bringing that up now. He hated pictures of himself before he’d started hormones.
“That you?” The man asked.
“Yeah.” There was no point hiding it: Aron had been upfront. No more surprises, he’d told Dan. I’m tired of rejection when they find out what’s underneath my clothing.
“The other guy?”
“My friend, Dan,” Aron explained.
“Looks like a good guy. The kind of friend we all could use.”
“Yeah. He is.” Aron bit back how irked he was that Dan was present, even here. It seemed like the man permeated everything he did. He needed out. He needed Dan to not be there for five fucking minutes like a hovering soccer mom. A soccer mom with benefits, but a mom all the same, nagging him to be safe and careful, worrying about his welfare, needing him to check in on nights out. Aron was ready to throw his phone onto the tracks and walk away with this guy, regardless of who he was. To rebel against his minder and have a little freedom. A little fun.
“You seem irritated. I suppose I haven’t done my due diligence.” The man held out his hand. “I’m Graham. I assume you’re Aron.”
Aron nodded and took the man’s hand, shaking it. “Yeah, that would be me.” He let go, feeling awkward. This wasn’t supposed to feel like a business meeting.
“Suppose you want to skip the formalities and go straight to the hotel,” Graham said.
“Sure.” Aron felt the balloon of hope that this guy might want him for more than a quick fuck burst. Disappointment flooded in. He considered walking away, but the thought of going home empty-handed seemed worse. To have to explain once again to Dan that this was the reality for men like him. Dan would commiserate with him, pretending to understand, when truth was he could (and did) hook up with hot guys on a regular basis.
Aron led Graham out of the station. The seedy hotel he used for encounters was right across the street. Graham followed in his wake, letting him do all the talking. Graham insisted on paying—in cash—and Aron’s heart sank a little further when he noticed the imprint of a wedding band on the man’s ring finger.
Aron decided not to care. He needed a fuck, regardless, and this guy was willing. His reasons or motivations didn’t matter. Graham swiped the key off the counter and they climbed a narrow staircase to the second floor. Their room was right at the end of the corridor. The pervasive smell of mold only intensified when they opened the door to reveal a double bed with a plain comforter and little else. Graham shut the door and engaged the locks.
Graham stopped in his tracks as he looked at Aron shedding his clothes like an unwanted skin. “You don’t really want this, do you?”
“My ad said I was looking for a relationship. I was thinking more ‘movie and dinner’ than ‘quick fuck in a hotel room’ to tell you the truth,” Aron snapped. “Whatever. I’ll take what I can get.”
“How old are you? Eighteen? Nineteen?”
“Old enough that you won’t get arrested when your wife finds out. I’m twenty-two.”
“My wife is dead, actually,” Graham explained. “Passed a year ago. I still wear the ring, but I didn’t want to freak you out on our first meeting, so I took it off.”
“Oh. Sorry.” Aron sat down on the edge of the bed, naked. Feeling self-conscious, he covered his surgery scars from Graham’s scrutiny with his arm. Aron couldn’t get a good read on the guy to see if he was lying or not, but he wished he’d get naked and get it over with.
“Are your defenses this high on every date you go on?”
“Dating in my situation isn’t exactly fun.” Aron chided himself. Graham was right, he was prickly. Graham already knew who he was, so why was he on the defensive? Sure, the date hadn’t exactly gone to plan, but he’d known it wouldn’t. What else had he expected from an online classified ad?
Graham sat down on the side of the bed and took off his socks and shoes. He placed them over the back of a chair and seemed to pause a moment. “I’m not sure I can do this.”
Rejection. Again. Rage surged through Aron’s veins and he stood up, picking up his pants and climbing into them to cover his nudity. “I was upfront in the ad. This whole thing has been a waste of fucking time.” He grabbed his faded t-shirt, pulling it on like armor.
“Wait. Don’t go. Please.” Graham sounded so desperate that it gave Aron pause. “Look, I—I’m not good at this,” he stammered. “Maybe we could just talk for a few?”
“I’m not here to indulge your curiosity,” Aron said. “I am actually looking for a date. It’s a lonely fucking world out there.”
“You have Dan,” Graham pointed out.
“Please stop that. Dan is not my boyfriend, nor will he ever be.”
“Why? From that picture, it looked like he cares a great deal about you. And your phone has buzzed at least six times since we came in this room. That’s him texting you, isn’t it?”
“He’s checking up on me. He didn’t agree with me meeting someone off Craigslist.” Aron shook his head, frustrated. Why did it always have to come back to Dan? Even his mom loved to comment on what a cute couple they made.
“I wish I had a friend like that,” Graham said.
“Look, if you want to fuck Dan, I’ll give you his number. It’s—”
“No, no, you’ve got it all wrong.” Graham sighed. “Wow, my game is off.” He rubbed his temples. “I’m a bit lonely. That’s all. I don’t know a lot of people from our community. My wife, she was always accepting enough that I didn’t need to belong anywhere else. But now—now she’s gone and I don’t know where I fit.”
“I thought you were lying about the wife thing, to be honest.” Aron sighed. “I’ve been an asshole, haven’t I?”
“It happens.” Graham forced a smile. He put his arms up in the air and pulled off his worn sweater, revealing old scars across his chest. Aron’s mouth fell open and he made sure to clamp it shut again before he could look too much like a goldfish.
“An old, washed up, recently widowed transman, yes,” Graham confessed. “I’m flattered that you couldn’t tell right off the bat. I’ve been on T for a very long time, but there are still times I look in the mirror and don’t feel masculine enough.”
“Wow.” Aron sat down on the edge of the bed. “I’ve been such a jerk. I’m sorry.”
“No, I’m the one who should be sorry. I thought I was ready for this, but I’m not. I tried to act like someone I’m not in a terrible attempt to impress you. I’m glad this all fell flat, to tell you the truth. I think I’m only looking for friends right now. Would you be my friend, Aron?”
“Yeah, of course.” Aron smiled. “Why couldn’t we have started with that, huh?” He pulled out his phone and checked his tweets again. There was Dan, with another picture of them together. Graham leaned over to look.
“So what’s the real reason you won’t date this Dan guy?”
“I told you, he—” Aron let out a long sigh. Graham had been honest with him all along the line. Perhaps he deserved a little honesty in exchange. Besides, it had been a while since he’d had the chance to sit and chat with another transman.
“Dan and I were friends at school. He knew me… before. We even tried dating as teens, before he came out as gay and I as trans. I—I don’t know if he accepts me as a man, deep down in his heart.”
“He’s gay and he’s still interested in you. That should tell you all you need to know.”
“I know. I’ve told myself that, but…” Aron shook his head. “He could have any man he wanted. He’s the kind of guy people don’t swipe past on Grindr. I think he feels sorry for me. He knows what I went through.”
Graham raised an eyebrow. “Have you tried talking to him about it?”
“I don’t want to ask him straight-up. What if he does only feel sorry for me? What if he doesn’t take me seriously as a man? I couldn’t cope with that. It would spell the end of our friendship. I don’t have anyone else.”
“You have me,” Graham said.
“I know, but we just met. Dan and I go way back.” Aron sighed. “I should say something, shouldn’t I?”
“You might want to consider it.” Graham put his sweatshirt back on. “I’m going to head home, Aron. Text me later on, okay?”
Aron found Dan sitting in the kitchen of their shared house, waiting for him. Several empty beer cans sat on the kitchen counter and a drunken haze clouded his eyes.
“Oh, thank God you’re safe,” Dan said. “I worried myself sick. You didn’t answer your texts. How was he? Good fuck?”
“We didn’t… we didn’t fuck,” Aron mumbled. He put his hands in his pockets of his hoodie, fidgeting with an old candy wrapper.
“He got spooked out? You were upfront in the ad. He knew what he was getting himself into.” Dan sighed. “I’m so sick of people not treating you with any respect. Give me his number, I’ll give him a piece of my mind.”
Aron laughed. “You don’t need to do that. But thanks.”
“We both got cold feet. It’s okay, Dan. We talked a lot and… I figured some things out.” Aron closed the distance between them. Dan looked up at him with confusion in his eyes. Aron leaned in and captured Dan’s lips in a deep kiss. Dan reciprocated, wrapping his arms around Aron’s waist. They parted for breath, and Aron smiled.
Yeah, there was chemistry all right. He’d been trying too hard to tell himself otherwise, because the idea of falling off this cliff with Dan was terrifying. If they hit the ground—
You have me. Graham’s voice reverberated in his mind. Aron swallowed. Graham was right. He wasn’t alone, and pushing away someone who was already his whole world for fear of losing him made no sense at all.
“You serious?” Dan asked. Aron steeled his heart for rejection, waiting for Dan to come back and say he only saw Aron as a friend, that he’d been keeping his bed warm as a kindness. He awaited the inevitable pity in Dan’s eyes, but it never came. Instead, Dan stood up and pulled Aron into his arms, holding him like he was the most precious thing in the world.
“I’m serious,” Aron confirmed.
“I’ve waited for years to hear you say that. I thought you weren’t interested in me.” Dan buried his face in Aron’s shoulder, kissing his neck and releasing a heavy sigh.
“You thought I wasn’t interested in you?”
“Yeah, dummy. I’ve only been standing here waving a neon sign this whole time. When you didn’t bite, I thought you didn’t want me as more than a friend. Even when we fucked, you were distant. As if you’d rather be anywhere else.”
“That’s not—” Aron closed his eyes. “You’re out of my league, Dan. You could have any guy you wanted—why the hell would you want me? I thought you were taking pity on me.”
“You have a tendency to hate yourself for no good reason. I do find you attractive, Aron—more than that, I love you, and have for a very long time.” Dan pulled away and found the nearest couch, slumping down onto it. “Well, that slipped out. Way to come on too strong and freak him out, Dan.”
Aron walked over to the couch and sat down next to Dan. He placed a hand on Dan’s back, drawing comfort from the steady thump of his heartbeat. “No… it’s okay. It feels good to hear you say that. I guess… when I saw those pictures you posted on Twitter, I worried that you were yearning for the old days. You know—before I transitioned.”
Dan smacked his head. “Oh God, I didn’t even think about that. I’m sorry.” He sighed. “Even when we were still in school, I knew I was gay and attracted to you—another guy. I forget sometimes that the rest of the world doesn’t see it that way. When I posted those pictures, I was reminiscing on how close we were… not trying to remind you of difficult times.”
Aron closed his eyes, marveling at how he’d got it all wrong. Dan did see him as a man—had seen him as such before he’d even accepted it himself. He broke into a smile, relaxing in Dan’s presence for the first time in too long. The glass house of negative assumptions he’d built to protect him from the idea of Dan’s rejection shattered, leaving his fragile heart exposed.
“I love you too, Dan,” Aron whispered. Dan’s eyes widened and he leaned in for a kiss. Aron’s phone vibrated in his pocket. He finished their delightful kiss before reaching into his hoodie and pulling out his phone.
“How’d it go?” Graham’s text read.
Aron reached over and hugged Dan, pressing their faces together. He snapped a selfie with the front-facing camera and sent it back to Graham. Graham sent back a smiling emoji.
“What are you up to?” Dan asked, leaning over to check Aron’s phone.
“I’m texting the new friend I made today. My classified connection. He’s the one who made me confront my feelings for you.”
“Awesome. Tell him ‘thank you’ from me.”
“In a sec. I need to update my Facebook relationship status.” Aron chose ‘in a relationship’ and saved the setting. He uploaded the picture of them to Facebook and Twitter, fired off Dan’s ‘thank you’ to Graham, and put his phone down. As Dan pressed him into the couch with kisses, his phone screen continued to light up with likes and retweets.
He’d look at them later. Right now, Aron was busy appreciating the man right in front of him.
Victoria was born in the United Kingdom but emigrated to the United States at age 21. She’s bisexual, non-binary (she/her or they/them), happily married, and still shouts in a British accent. She lives with her husband in Pennsylvania where she spends a lot of time playing and talking about video games, especially Japanese role-playing games.
Besides the Culture Wars and New World Rising series, she is the author of a variety of LGBTQA titles, including novels The Nero Protocol (m/m), The Forbidden Zone (m/m) and The Best Of Both Worlds (f/f/m), contracted with Less Than Three Press. She loves to write about all colors of the rainbow and celebrate love wherever it may be found.
Ideologically, she can be classified as a humanist. She believes in equality for all and the progression of the human race through logic and reason, with the principles of science, not superstition, at the core of that. She believes in a positive future based on hope and generosity, instead of negativity.
She is a fierce advocate for the freedom of speech, with a firm belief that censorship, and the support of suppression of information by pressure groups is a violation of the fundamental human right to free expression. She argues that acting with empathy, instead of being obsessed with semantics, is the way to treat all human beings with the dignity they deserve. She has a dark, edgy sense of humor, and tires quickly of people who are easily offended.
She is totally obsessed with science fiction, space, and the Big Questions surrounding the human condition. She’s convinced of the inherent goodness and intelligence of the human race, and can’t be convinced for long that we’re not deserving of redemption.
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When Aron creates a classified ad online hoping to find romance, he knows he'll probably end up with a one night stand. So when Graham shows up at their agreed meeting place with a ring mark on his finger and wants to go straight to a hotel, Aron is not surprised. However, things are rarely as they seem and Aron is about to make a connection he never anticipated, while finding love in a place he never thought to look...