LENGTH: 17,195 words
This story is included in the anthology, Gay Daddies
Six months after his wife leaves him, Bob Jansen finds himself spending the holidays with his parents in the town where he grew up. With him is his seven year old daughter, Jenna, who sometimes seems to be handling her mother’s absence better than Bob is himself. But he’s worried that, in her letter to Santa, Jenna has asked the jolly old elf for something Bob knows he can’t pull off. He’s afraid she wants her mother back for the holiday.
While shopping for his daughter’s Christmas presents, Bob runs into Dave Knarr, an old friend. They used to be best buds in high school, before Julia, Bob’s soon-to-be ex-wife, came between them. The two men catch up over drinks, and before the evening ends, Dave makes his real feelings for Bob known.
If Bob is shocked to learn Dave has always been attracted to him, he’s more surprised by his own reaction. Even if he’s willing to take another shot at romance, what will his daughter think of his old friend?
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A horn blares behind me, and I glance into my rearview mirror to see twin headlights bearing down on my car.
I hit the gas and speed up, taking the dark curves a bit too fast, trying to put some distance between myself and the other driver. It’s some kind of truck or SUV, the lights shining right at the level of my eyes. And the asshole driver stays on my tail, as if goading me along.
Ahead the stop light flickers from yellow to red and I hit the brakes. A perverse part of me hopes the other driver isn’t paying attention and rear-ends me. I could use the money.
Here the road widens out and, just my luck, the jerk swings into the lane beside mine. I turn up the radio and stare studiously straight ahead, not eager to make eye contact. This might be the boonies and it might be miles from the big city, but this is still the south, and anyone who drives a pickup truck like that has to own a gun. I just know it.
Beside me, the truck revs its engine, then the horn bleats again. I keep facing forward. I won’t get drawn into this, I can’t. I have my daughter to think about. I’ll just wait for the light to change and let him pull ahead ...
The horn again, a long braying sound this time. The asshole really wants to piss me off. I hear a window roll down and a man’s voice call from the cab, “Hey!”
Then the light turns green, and I ignore my plan to wait him out. Instead I hit the gas and zoom ahead through the intersection, putting as much road between us as I can. By the time I’m turning into the mall parking lot, the truck just begins to pull away from the light. But it changes lanes and follows me. Into the parking lot, around the left side of the mall, fuck.
I look for a police car and, of course, don’t see one. Of course not. A stop sign looms ahead, but I turn off and weave through the parked cars, hoping to lose the truck among the aisles. It follows, but at a distance. Maybe he’s just looking for a spot, like me.
And maybe I’d believe that, if he hadn’t yelled out his window at me. No, this jerk wants a fight. I’m in no mood to get hassled.
I head for another section of the parking lot, closer to the entrance where I know I can reach the toy store quickly. In and out, that’s my new plan. I pull into the first empty spot I see and check to make sure I have my cell phone in my pocket. If he comes at me, I’ll call 911.
With my hand tight around my cell, I park and turn off the car’s lights. For a long moment, I listen to the engine tick in the darkness and feel the winter evening seep in beneath the fading heat. I look around the lot and don’t see the truck -- rather, I can’t pick it out among all the others.
A sigh of relief escapes me. I lost him. I pull up the parking brake, take the key from the ignition, and step out of the car. As I’m slamming the door shut, a pair of familiar, high-riding headlights pull into the empty spot behind me.
They click off, leaving me momentarily disoriented. I hear a car door open, then a man calls, “Didn’t you see me trying to get your attention back there?”
My hand curls around my cell. “Where, at the light?”
Coming closer, the man grabs my free hand and pulls me into a one-armed hug. “Holy hell. It really is you. Bobby Jansen all grown up.”
I recognize the voice, it rushes at me from my past and whatever apprehension I had disappears in a surprised laugh. “Fuck, Dave Knarr? That’s not you, is it?”
The arm around my shoulders tightens and Dave laughs. “Who else would it be? And you just blew me off --”
“I thought you were some crazy, road-rage redneck!” I step back but he still holds my hand in his, so I shake it over and over again like a politician.
Dave laughs, a booming sound I remember vividly. “I was! I was all like damn fucker, going so slow. Then I get to the light and I looked over and shit, it’s you!”
He finally lets go of my hand, and I tuck it into my pocket like the other -- it’s getting cold now, but I don’t want to rush into the mall and lose this moment. Dave and I were best buds back in high school. Inseparable. Every memory I have from freshman to senior year, he’s right there in it with me. We used to be so tight. Funny how my going away to college -- and getting married to Julia -- managed to tear us apart.
“So what are you up to now?” I want to know.
He claps me on the back, then wraps an arm around my shoulder. “Damn, it’s cold! How about I buy you a drink and we catch up for old times’ sake?”