Flamingo Place

You say your son is queer! Maybe he's a confirmed bachelor or simply set in his ways.

Thump! Thump! Thump! The damn boom box next door was driving Jen St. George crazy.

Determined to ignore the loud rap music emanating from her neighbor's apartment, Jen continued to type. Her next door neighbor was the most inconsiderate person she'd ever encountered and by far the rudest.

Jumping up, Jen banged on the wall and yelled, "Can you turn down your music?"

When her request didn't produce the desired results, Jen called to her assistant, Chere, "Turn on the stereo, please. Loud."

Jen's attention returned to the letter she was working on. She banged out words no sooner than they'd popped into her head. This was her tenth letter of the day, and she was exhausted from dispensing advice. The moniker love diva hadn't been earned easily.

The script in front of her was beginning to blur and tiny black dots were popping out in front of her eyes. On any given day being an advice columnist wasn't easy, but she loved her job and got immense satisfaction from helping people. Giving advice had made her a popular and sought-after teenager. It had felt good to be needed. Today it still did.

"Chere, where are you? You're supposed to be turning on the stereo," Jen called, her irritation at her assistant reflecting in her tone. Not that Chere would even get it.

"I hear you," her assistant called from the vicinity of the kitchen.

Dear Jenna made a living as an advice columnist to the lovelorn. This career came with a huge responsibility. People trusted her to choose their life partners or help them dump an inconvenient relationship. She was considered the diva of love because her advice was seldom off the mark. Normally her readership loved her in-your-face style.

The deafening music continued from next door. Jen thumped on the wall again.

"Please show some consideration. Jerk," she muttered under her breath.

Jen turned on her own stereo, making sure her volume matched 5B's. Now she could barely hear herself think.

Back at her desk Jen considered changing the wording of her response. Conservative Flamingo Beach, the small North Florida town where she now lived, might not get Dear Jenna"s hip-happening style. She really meant no harm; if anyone knew her family situation they would know that.

No, better to leave it like that. Maybe she'd bring this sleepy oceanfront community into the twenty-first century. The word queer was perfectly acceptable and in vogue now. It was totally embraced by the gay community. The TV show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy had made the word a household name, and it was one of the more popular shows around.

Still, there was always the chance some unin-formed reader could interpret it as a slur, especially in a backwoods Southern town. She was on ninety-day probation at The Flamingo Beach Chronicle. The newspaper had wooed her way from Ashton, Ohio, an even smaller Midwest town.

In a relatively short time, Jen had acquired quite the following and The Chronicle's circulation had increased. The competition, The Southern Tribune, was watching them closely. Of course her boss hadn't said word one to her about this accomplishment. He dispensed compliments meagerly, just as she'd been warned he dispensed raises.

The loud noise next door continued. Jen glanced at her full to overflowing in-box and sighed. What on earth was taking Chere so long? She'd excused herself to use the bathroom earlier and must have detoured to the kitchen.

Chere was to have read and catalogued the mail by now but she'd arrived late as usual, leaving Jen to handle most of it herself. Two days a week they worked from home—Jen's home. This was supposed to allow them to keep up with correspondence. But something needed to be done about Chere Adams— and soon. There had to be better qualified administrative assistants around.

"Chere!" Jen shouted over the din emanating from next door. "What's the holdup?"

"I said I was coming."

Jen rolled her eyes. Sure she was, when she was good and ready. There was a residential directory somewhere around. Jen searched and found it before realizing she didn't know the neighbor's name. This meant she'd have to go next door.

The hall was alive with music. Using her fist, she banged on 5B's front door.

"What's up?" he called when the sound registered. She didn't stick around to answer. Hopefully he would get the message. Rather than wasting energy debating his selfishness, Jen returned to reread Ms. Mabel's letter. The old lady had a quirky sense of humor. She pleaded with Jen to help save her son, even likening homosexuality to a rare disease.

How had she come to such a conclusion? It was a metrosexual world. Men got manicures, pedicures and facials just like women did these days. Men were marrying later and later. Thirty-five wasn't that old. Jen was thirty-two and very single, and left to herself she'd stay that way. There had to be more to it. Maybe Mother Mabel had found her son in a compromising position. Jen decided she would ask.

She typed her witty and well-thought-out prose, pausing to rotate her cramping shoulder muscles and stare out the living room windows. A beautiful coral and lavender sunset made her long to be outdoors, sipping on something cool and frothy. It was wishful thinking on her part—with the looks of that in-box.

It had taken Ms. Mabel a full eight pages to tell how her son had been engaged three times but never quite made it down the aisle. Mama was now speculating that her son's loud "Cabana Boy" shirts and "butt-hugging" jeans were a clear sign he was batting for the other team.

The music next door ceased, thank God. Jen's head still vibrated with the sound. She squared her shoulders and took a deep breath. She'd never regretted leaving Ashton, the small Midwest town where she'd worked for ten years. The Flamingo Beach Chronicle's offer had come at the perfect time.

Jen's romantic life had been in turmoil. She'd been happy to put space between herself and Anderson, the lying, cheating dog who'd broken her heart and put her off men, permanently. Now was not the time to think of him. She had a deadline to meet.

"I'm calling it a day," huffed Chere, the assistant she'd inherited. She was still chomping on the chicken leg she'd taken from Jen's refrigerator. She slid a glass of water Jen's way. "Unless you need me for something." Two plump cheeks parted to reveal perfectly white teeth. Then she made a chicken neck.

"What's with that brother? He tone deaf or what?"

Damn if she knew. She'd been wondering the same thing. Jen waved an expansive hand in the direction of her crowded desk. "Nope, just self-focused like we need to be. We've got work, girl. Those letters need to be read and logged in. Today."

Chere placed two pudgy hands bedecked with gold rings on each finger on her oversized hips. Her nails were a work of art, depicting the New York skyline in black and silver. She proudly announced to anyone who would listen that she'd grown up in the Bronx, followed a man South, and although that relationship was long over with, remained because she enjoyed the Southern hospitality. Translation, the dark-skinned brothers had been good to her and delighted in her charms.

"Shoot. I have plans tonight," she grumbled.

"What am I supposed to tell Leon?"

"What you've told every man you didn't want to be bothered with. You're busy."

"But I want to be bothered with this one—you should see how he's hung...."

Jen now fixed her hazel-eyed stare on the outrageous woman who thought work was a contagious disease and tended to disappear more often than not. Chere did serve a purpose though. She knew everything there was to know about Flamingo Beach and its residents. She'd slept with most of the men and could proudly list their long and shortcomings. As she'd said to Jen time and time again, you didn't have to be skinny as a rail to bag a man. Booty was booty. Good loving just as easily came in an oversized package.

Chere harrumphed before settling in and attacking the pile in the in-box. She slid a nail that reminded Jen of a talon under one envelope flap while sighing loudly.