Gutterpunk romance, anyone?
"Catching Out" is part of the Torquere Blind Dates Taste Test, and is the story of lonely photographer Ab, vagabond Mole, and their very unlikely love.
Ab is ready to take on a new relationship, so his family and friends set him up on a slew of blind dates. When he meets Mole, he sees a whole new life opening up. Can Ab find the courage to go for it?
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Mole's young friends in CATCHING OUT were inspired by a group of young people I became close with while a grad student in Providence, RI.  They squatted in old mills or shared ratty apartments when they could, and every winter many of them would "catch out" -- hop freight trains -- to places further south where agricultural or construction jobs were easier to find.  For all their rough appearance and rebel ways, many of my young friends devoted themselves to social justice to the extent their limited means and educations allowed.  For example, when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, two of them headed down there immediately to help with the relief efforts and stayed on to work on rebuilding homes and infrastructure.
(Photo is by Polaroidkidd.)
"One of the nicest things about Catching out is the way it resolutely avoids the clichés, and allows the characters to remain true to themselves and their choices, while still being transformed by their relationship and the feelings they have for each other. ...Highly recommended."
Ann Somerville, Uniquely Pleasurable

"I marvel at what Benoit does in less than twenty pages. Benoit creates an interesting and lovable cast of characters, shows Ab's discoveries about himself and a world he didn't know much about, develops a touching relationship between Ab and the complex Mole, showcases a talent for beautiful and lyrical prose, and manages to simultaneously depict the irrepressibility of the human spirit and the hardship of poverty and homelessness."
Dakota Flint, Rainbow Reviews
"Benoit's transcendental tale carries a profound message, unpretentious and powerful in its sincerity. It's a rare quality of writing, and just like Mole, filled with intriguing hidden depths." Angusdevotee
4 Nymphs from Literary Nymphs
Ingenuous Petey left home under a cloud only to find friendship and purpose among a band of itinerants. Now it’s Christmas Eve and Petey has left his friends behind to try to spend the holiday with the family that rejected him. When Petey must finally admit that you can’t go home again, it’s his traveling friends who pick him up, dust him off, and bring him to a church basement to help serve a holiday meal to those even less fortunate than Petey himself. There he meets the mysterious Woody, who expresses a surprising interest in young Petey. Is Petey in over his head -- again -- or will the two wanderers find in each other a home for the holidays?  
GUTTERPUNK STONE SOUP: Petey and Woody from CATCHING CHRISTMAS rustle up a community meal in this short freebie based on the classic folk tale.

Well, that was worse than I expected, Ab thought to himself as he watched his date drive away.  He considered going back inside the restored railway station where they’d met for a low-pressure after-work drink, but didn’t really want to revisit the scene of his disappointment.  The sun was setting and the summer evening was soft and inviting.  He wandered away from the station and its studiously hip eateries and boutiques, away from the parking lot, toward the little park by the tracks.  He knew he’d never use the number on the fancy vellum card in his hand, so he crumpled it as he went, the small pain of the thick edges digging into his palm curiously satisfying.  There was a bench, a new thing made to look old with glossy iron uprights and a smooth wooden seat.  He sat.
“Hey, friend, got a light?”
“I don’t smoke,” Ab answered reflexively as he turned his head away from the sunset.  He looked up to see who’d spoken and instantly wished he had his camera.  The man standing there holding out a hand-rolled cigarette with a hopeful air was nothing like the glossy metrosexuals he photographed all day.  He was even less like the buttoned down “straight-acting professionals” his brother and friends seemed to think were perfect for him.  This guy was about Ab’s age, wearing a vest over work pants that had been patched with what looked like duct tape.  Spiky ends of tattoos teased from the grimy collar and cuffs of his tattered thermal undershirt.
The man smiled.  “No worries, friend.”  He lifted a few dusty-looking dreadlocks and tucked the cig behind his ear.
“I’m Mole.  Mind if I sit a spell?” 
A big square hand hovered, ready to shake, just outside Ab’s personal space.  His mother would have gasped and fluttered over being offered such a dirty, cracked-nailed hand, but Ab didn’t hesitate.  He gave his name, along with his firmest, hail-fellow-well-met handshake, and slid over a few inches in invitation.  Mole sat with a sigh and stretched long legs out before him.  They sat quietly, watching the sun set over the old rail yard and the refurbished mills that hemmed it in, Mole apparently disinclined to speak, Ab completely at a loss for anything to say.
“You’re not here to catch a train,” Mole said finally.
Ab waved at the tracks.  “There haven’t been passenger trains through here since I was a kid.”
Mole smiled as if Ab had missed the point.  “Cargo comes through at night, after the beautiful people have finished their beautiful meals.”  Ab squelched a spike of defensiveness -- was Mole lumping him in with those vapid pleasure-seekers?  But Mole kept talking.  “You look suited to being in there, but you’re out here.  Why?”
“I was,” Ab began.  “In there, I mean.  Blind date.”  He smiled ruefully, sure someone as accustomed to the edge as Mole seemed to be would have no use for blind dates and trendy restaurants.  “Guess I didn’t want to go right home, after.”
“Not a match?”
“I don’t smoke, remember?”  Immediately, Ab wanted to suck his words back.  Usually only Ephraim got his quirky sense of humor.  He kept it under wraps with most people, to avoid awkward explanations and confirmations of his social ineptitude.  He couldn’t have explained why his silly word-play came so naturally in his present company.
Before he could worry himself into a stammering apology, Mole laughed, open and warm, a sound Ab wanted to hear again the moment it stopped.
“Nah, not a match,” he conceded.
“Why not?”  Mole seemed genuinely curious, not just making polite conversation, not just waiting for his turn to talk about himself.
“He was...kinda full of himself.”  Ab watched closely for Mole’s reaction to the male pronoun, but there was neither widening nor narrowing of eyes, no pursing of lips or tensing of fists.
“Maybe he was just nervous, trying to impress you?” Mole offered generously.
Ab rolled his eyes, remembering his dinner with a business acquaintance of Ephraim’s.  “He was too busy telling me about his stock options and new car and how he managed to cash in on the sub-prime mortgage crunch.  There was no room for anything else.”
“Full of himself,” Mole agreed.
Ab shrugged.  “I don’t know what my brother was thinking, setting us up.  What really turned me off was his reaction to my job.”
“Didn’t approve?  Thought his was bigger and better and shinier?”  Mole’s eyes glinted with amusement in the slanting sunset light.
“Approved all wrong,” Ab said after a moment’s thought.  He hadn’t really thought at the time about why he was so bothered, but Mole looking at him with expectantly raised eyebrows made him want to find the words.  “I told him I was a photographer and where I work and he got all dirty-old-man about the models.”
“Jealous,” Mole pronounced and Ab felt absurdly vindicated.
They sat in silence for a few more minutes, until the sunset light gave way to full dusk.
“Well, friend, we’d best push off, scare up that light,” Mole said, his voice gentle, almost reverent.
We?  Ab glanced about; there was no one else around.  Just his luck to have spent one of the more pleasant half-hours in recent memory with a delusional crazy man.  Or did Mole intend “we” to suggest Ab should leave with him?  Ab wasn’t ready for that, but he stood anyway and looked at Mole, daring to ask, “We?”
Mole smiled and opened his vest to show the inner pocket.  Whiskers, a pink nose, and bright black eyes twitched at him.
Ab laughed, relieved and disappointed and surprised all at once.  “Let me guess: Ratty?”
Mole beamed proudly, as if Ab were a clever little boy.  “Can’t have Mole without Ratty.”
Ab beamed back.  “Wind in the Willows was the best book ever.”
“You know it,” he said with a grin, and sauntered away.
Ab resisted the urge to call him back.
© Lee Benoit

Here is how CATCHING CHRISTMAS begins:

"That you, Petey?"

Petey hadn't expected to be recognized, and the pair he saw approaching him brought an equally unexpected smile to his face.

"Hey, Sledge," he got out before a tiny whirlwind of arms and legs enfolded him. "Pest!" he greeted the limpet-like person, Sledge's constant companion, and his friend.

"You gotta come with us," Pest said, speaking as though there hadn't been a weeks-long break since they'd last been together. "It's gonna be great."

"What is?" he asked, freeing one arm to offer an awkward hug to the more reticent Sledge.

"Party!" Pest said. "After serving supper at the food bank.

It really was as though he'd never left his friends. "Will Mole and Ab be there?" He'd left his other friends behind further south, where Mole was doing some advocacy work with migrant tomato pickers and his lover Ab was taking the most amazing photographs. Petey didn't imagine their work was done, nor that they'd have had enough time to hop a train north, so he wasn't surprised when Sledge shook her spiky head.

Missing Ab and Mole was harder than Petey would have credited, even a few days ago. The two men were like big brothers to him. Well, like he imagined loving and proud big brothers might be. He looked out over the slushy yard and spotted a glow here and there where other itinerants had fires. Amazing how many folks stayed north at Christmastime. "Mole and Ab have the right idea," he said as he fell into step beside Sledge with Pest clinging to his back, skinny legs banging the backs of his knees with every step.

"You know it," Pest trilled, too loudly in his ear. "Too fucking cold here."

"Your fault we're here, though," Sledge reminded Pest with the air of an old argument worn toothless with repetition.

"Gotta visit my Grams for Christmas, don't I?" Pest replied. "Ain't no one else gonna."

Petey slid into the comfortable role of silent partner. No one needed him to say anything, to make any decisions. Deciding to come back to Sister City on his own had been the first decision he'd made in the months since Mole rescued him from some bad men, and look how that was turning out. Pest wriggled on his back and Petey smiled to himself -- well, in the last five minutes that decision was moving into the not-so-bad column.

A few other kids Petey didn't know slunk out of tents and abandoned shipping containers when Sledge called out. A few months ago these scraggly folk would have sent Petey running -- and some of them were still pretty scary -- but Petey knew what was what now, knew how to greet them without giving away how green he still was, knew Sledge had his back if it came to that.

The walk to the food bank wasn't too long, and before Petey knew it Pest was hopping off his back and bouncing down the steps into St. Sebastian's basement fellowship hall where Petey saw more folks he knew, including grumpy Sister David who ran the food bank for the parish.

"Back in one piece I see," she said by way of greeting. The tough old nun passed Petey a pair of oven mitts and pointed him and Sledge and Pest towards the giant laundry sink to get washed up before getting to work.

"She's happy to see you," Pest teased. "All she did was toss me an apron and walk away. Come on."

He didn't notice how hungry he was until some time later when Sister Jean d'Arc directed him to the dining room to eat before it was time to clean up.

Pest and Sledge grinned as they filled Petey's plate with lasagna, salad, and warm bread, but they couldn't take a break yet -- the line of hungry folks snaked right back up the stairs of the basement hall. "Try that table," Sledge said, pointing with a tomato-drippy spoon. "Guy's a friend'a Mole's, I think."

That was good enough for Petey. Sitting with strangers would have been daunting in any case, but on Christmas Eve the sad old vets and broken-down moms and wraithlike little kids were too much for him to bear. What would he say that wouldn't make things worse for them, or worse, set them off? Over at a table near the kitchen door, where it was hotter and noisier than the rest of the hall, a small round table shimmed with pieces of cardboard listed toward a skinny guy who hunched over his food like a lion at a kill. Or a con, Petey thought uneasily before berating himself for jumping to conclusions.

"Share your table?" Petey asked. Some deep-down part of him wanted to add ‘sir' to his request.

© Lee Benoit