W HEN R ON Corbin heard his name announced as the new president of the Heartland Bear Clan, he could hardly contain himself. He bellowed a loud, “Yowza,” which made everyone laugh. It was only by the grace of God that he kept himself from whooping out, “I’m king of the world.” After all, hadn’t nearly everyone thought it a very egotistical thing for James Cameron to shout when he won his Oscar for best director?
Ron had never understood that. It seemed like a logical thing for the Titanic filmmaker to shout. Perfect , actually. The Leonardo DiCaprio line was one of the most famous from the movie. And it was how Cameron must have felt when he won the Academy Award.
It was certainly how Ron felt when Mel Gunter, the man who had run the club for well over a decade, stood up in front of everyone and declared him as his successor. Ron really did feel like the king of the world. Or at least his world—and his world was the Kansas City bear club.
There was nothing more important to Ron than the Heartland Bear Clan. In many ways the social group had saved his life—at least he felt that way. He’d been one big old depressed bear when he’d been introduced to the group of men. In fact, once upon a time he’d hated the fact that anyone thought of him as a bear in the first place. Bears were fat. And fat was bad, right? Men who couldn’t stop eating, right? Who couldn’t stick to a diet? Who refused to take care of themselves? Who had no self-pride?
That’s what he’d thought. What he’d been told over and over and over again.
“I do not know how you can be a child of mine!” came the voice of his mother.
“Fat! You’re a fatass!” came the voice of his father. “My son— my son—a fatass!”
But the Heartland Bear Clan had changed all of that. Had changed his life. Okay, so he was a bear. Yeah, he was a bit chunky. But not ugly. He’d worked quite a bit to find his style, as well. He kept his brown hair almost military short and his full beard trimmed fairly tight. Yeah, a bear. And a pretty good-looking one. And now, as president of the club he’d devoted so much of his time to, he couldn’t be happier.
Until he found out who was going be his vice president.
“Paddy Brennan,” he cried while pacing the living room of his best friend Billy’s apartment a few hours later. “Jesus H. Christ! How in the world am I supposed to work with that man?”
Billy, Ron’s best friend and a man who was easily seventy pounds heavier—at least—than Ron, shrugged his massive shoulders in his characteristic fashion. He was huge in every way, and when he shrugged, his whole body did as well. Billy was the epitome of the famous Christmas line about shaking like a bowlful of jelly. Which was appropriate, because the first time Ron ever saw Billy was Christmas weekend, and he was strutting comically around on stage at a bar, dressed in a red negligee and lip-synching to a little ditty called “Walking ’Round in Women’s Underwear,” a parody of a certain famous Christmas carol.
“It is what it is, dude,” Billy said. He scratched at his shaggy beard. “I think you just need to make the best of it.”
Ron snarled. He really did—he snarled . The fact that he would have to work shoulder to shoulder with Paddy Brennan was as much a nightmare as winning the presidency of the bear club was a dream come true.
He sat on his friend’s couch, sighed, and wondered what Billy had to drink. He needed something. Since it was Billy’s place, that probably meant beer, or maybe, if Ron was really lucky, some cheap whiskey. He needed something strong. Tonight he felt like getting drunk. And why not? He didn’t have to drive. He lived three stories up from his friend in the Oscar Wilde, an apartment building built back in the 1920s by the famous Nelle E. Peters, and for some reason (for at least the last quarter century), predominantly rented by gays, lesbians, bisexuals, the transgendered, and the