Color Me by Blaine D. Arden

Rating: 7/10 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 
Title: Color Me
Author: Blaine D. Arden
Genre: Contemporary romance
URL: Author’s site
Price: FREE
Other Information/warnings: explicit sexual content, ableist language
Summary [from the publisher]:
Jonah Fisher and Scott Eeley may both be Deaf, but they couldn’t be more different.
Scott is a color consultant who doesn’t interact well with the hearing. He watches his gorgeous new neighbor swim every morning, but has no idea how to approach him. He doesn’t even know his name.
Jonah is a bouncer with an ‘I’m Deaf, deal with it’ attitude. He doesn’t like the way Scott lets people treat him. So why can’t he stop thinking about him?

My review:
Good stories about disabled people are relatively rare in the m/m genre – I daresay even in the wider gay literature genre, since they are rare anyway. Stories about Deaf people are even rarer. While this free short by Ms Arden is far from the best story I’ve ever read, it’s a decent effort, and does a little to rectify the shameful shortage of stories about people with disabilities in romance over all.

Unfortunately (because this is something seen too often in stories with blind or deaf characters) there is a slightly paranormal aspect to Scott’s deafness, in that he can see coloured spots around a person relating to mood and state. So when he sees Jonah swiming, he also sees a red spot around an injured ankle. Other spots around other people can indicate anger, peace or even pregnancy. Strangely, Scott sees the colours as a hindrance, not a help. He certainly derives no benefit from it.

The slight plot about boy meets boy, boy takes forever to hook up with boy, boy has sex with boy etc, hinges on a comedy of errors of sorts, regarding Jonah’s mistaken assumptions about Scott’s relationships based on Jonah’s own history and a dead friend. It’s a little ridiculous but I suppose not unbelievably so. What is unbelievable is the extent to which Scott, a supposed independent professional, one important enough to warrant an assistant who acts as his signing translator, acts as if he’s mentally handicapped, not Deaf. He depends on his father and a neighbour (or housekeeper, I wasn’t sure – like many things in this story, it’s not spelled out clearly) for food, because of a serious kitchen mishap thirteen years before. Yes, this twenty-nine-year old man is incapable of cooking for himself because his father won’t let him. Oy.

He’s also a bad lipreader – which isn’t something he’s obliged to be, to be sure, but since it makes such a material impact on his ability to live and work independently, you’d think he make some effort to improve. He has a three-year-old hostile relationship with a colleague over a misundertanding on this very point, and he never manages to sort it out on his own – his boyfriend has to do that for him (and Jonah has exactly what right to dress down Scott’s colleague, why?) At that point in the story, I wanted to slap Scott and tell him to grow the fuck up. He’s so passive and helpless, it’s a wonder he doesn’t need someone to dress him in the morning – he does need a cleaner, apparently. Just why would a single man with no dependents and no massively time-intensive hobbies need a cleaner? Grrr.

Jonah’s background is only sketched in. He’s a boxer, but stil ridiculously handsome (that, by the way, is very unlikely). He’s been in an accident which put paid to his lucrative boxing career, but the details aren’t given. He’s a weird mixture of self-assurance and childishness, and while he’s more proactive than Scott, he still acts like a twit occasionally.

The writing is fairly tight and clean – if I’d been editing it, I’d have removed a couple of awkward phrases, and improved the punctuation somewhat, but for a freebie, there’s nothing serious to complain about, except for the egregious use of ableist slurs by a Deaf man regarding another disability – that’s simply not on. Overall, it’s a enjoyable enough read that could have been better, but I have also read far, far worse paid stories. It’s good enough that I would be curious about Ms Arden’s next offering, if it’s a more substantial item. Try it for yourself.