by Daniel Link
"How come you only come here when it rains?"
Luc is sprawled on the loveseat, still naked and coated in a sheen of sweat. He's got a four-ounce glass of his latest brew, dangling low enough to brush the rug and leaving dark tracks where it touches.
Because it stinks in here. Because the sound on the metal roof is the only thing that drowns out the hum and vibration of the brewhouse you spent my inheritance on. Because I used to fill this space with music and now it's a filthy mancave that produces a few hundred barrels of beer no one wants to drink. I want to tell him, but I know I can't.
"It's nice when it rains," I say instead.
That gets a smile. He downs his glass and strokes the back of my hand with two fingers. I close my eyes and the last five years melt away, and the barn is still my studio, my parents are still alive, and the only sex Luc and I have in here is the occasional fast, passionate interlude stolen between board games and family dinners.
"I'm thinking about trying a triple IPA," he says, and the moment is ruined. "I'm using Centennial hops. Everyone's going heavy on Cascade, so I'm going against the grain."
I tune him out and listen to the rain. Brahms' first in C minor runs in my head, and I focus on my part. The performance is weeks away, but I'm having trouble with a series of notes at the end of the andante sostenuto I want to iron out.
"Are you even listening?"
His face is red and he's covering his cock with a pillow. I laugh. Why get shy now?
"What's so funny?"
"Sorry. Long day. I was just remembering something at work."
Off goes the pillow. He leans back, cracks his neck without using his hands, like he's preparing to lift something heavy.
"I was saying about the new IPA--"
"The triple you're planning?"
I'm trying to show him that I'm listening, but his brow knits. Must have been tuned out longer than I thought.
"No." He holds up his sample glass. It's full again. When did that happen? "This new batch. You haven't even tried it yet."
There's only one thing to do. "Let's give it a try."
The soundtrack in my head turns to Borodin's String Quartet in D. It's not on the concert menu, but it relaxes me. My first notes accompany his getting up from the loveseat, groaning like he's fifty. I concentrate on the rain as he stomps to the fridge and gets a cold glass.
Mine's not one of the samplers but a full pint. He brings it to me like he's presenting our firstborn at the hospital. The head is above the rim, but he doesn't spill a drop. The beer's dark and almost orange, so cloudy that I can only see the ghost of my fingertips through the glass.
"The clarity will get better once it's been in the tanks a while."
I must have been staring.
The glass is halfway to my lips before he stops me. "I want you to think Florida keys meets Scottish Highlands. Citrus and sun and sand meet mountains and heather and..." He trails off, his Scotland knowledge tapped.
"Haggis?" I offer.
"There's two festivals before the Oregon Brewers Fest. There's the International Beer Fest in June and then the Portland Craft Beer Festival early in July. If we make a splash at those, and maybe some luck at the big show, we'll draw real interest when it comes here to Bend."
"And that's in August?" I say, even though he's made me request the day off three years running.
"The fifteenth," he says, then pets me like a dog. "You're going to love it."
I haven't told him that I'm not sure I can miss work. Now isn't the time. I hold up my glass for a toast, and he clinks his sampler against it hard enough for a splash of tepid beer to wash over my thumb. My head dips forward and he interrupts again.
"I know you don't know much about beer," he starts, and I want to scream. "But let it roll over your tongue, let it sink into the taste buds, saturate. That balances the acidity in your mouth. The next sip has the grace notes."
My rising bile should be enough to get the acidity right. Grace notes? I don't know anything about beer? Like you don't know anything about music? Like you couldn't tell a sonata from a minuet? Like you thought Rhapsody in Blue was a new album by a member of the Crips. He's so smug, arms crossed and his prick twitching in anticipation. I'm half tempted to toss the beer at his growing member, cool it down a little. Instead, I drink.
He's smiling the smile I love, the hopeful one that the thirty pounds he's gained hasn't ruined, the one that all the rejections and failures he's endured hasn't broken. It's hard not puckering, but I manage, then I take the second sip, and I get that one down, too. His round face hovering above me, his dick at eye level, they watch me with undisguised anticipation.
The opening bars of the Cantique de Jean Racine float down from somewhere, combining with the rain to cool the fire within me. I want so badly to say the truth, to tell him that his precious brew is bitter, as bitter as our life has become, but the choir's first notes combining with the piano's recall the years of Catholic schooling, and the unending patience I learned.
I force a smile. "It's nice."
He droops. All of him. It's not the answer he wanted, but it's the best I can do. I stand, put on my underwear and leave the barn, reveling in the rain on my naked breasts and shoulders.
Daniel L Link lives in Northern California where he writes short stories, novels, and flash fiction. He's an assistant editor of the Gold Man Review. His work has been featured in New Reader Magazine, the HCE Review, the Lowestoft Chronicle, the Eastern Iowa Review, the Penmen Review, Ariel Chart, and RavensPerch. His stories will be featured in the next Rabbit Hole Anthology and Soliloquies Anthology, and his story, Dublin Down, will be appearing in the October issue of the Esthetic Apostle. His website is daniellinkauthor.com