The only Jewish person at Patterson and Associates, Micah Adler grudgingly participates in the office's "secret Santa" gift exchange at Christmas. But the gift that waits for him is a little surprising -- a brand-new box of condoms, with a suggestive, unsigned note attached.
In trying to figure out who might have sent the gift, he narrows it down to two coworkers: Brady or Jonathan. Both men are young, attractive, and single, like Micah himself, though if Micah had his choice, he'd pick Jonathan. He's harbored a not-so-secret crush on the guy ever since they met when Micah began working at the firm. But Micah knows it's a hopeless cause -- Jonathan is straight, and said as much when Micah first hit on him months ago.
Since Brady is gay, Micah suspects the condoms and other sexually-themed presents he receives are either a gag gift from one queer to another or a blatant offer to spend the holiday with someone else. When the trio decide to go out after work on Christmas Eve, Micah thinks he'll get a chance to flirt with Brady and see where the evening might end.
But is Brady really Micah's secret Santa? Or does Jonathan have something he wants to confess?
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Patterson and Associates was a small, tight-knit firm that sometimes seemed more like a family than an office. Shelley easily fell into the role of mother to the nine men who worked as architects -- she was always quick to nag about missed messages or items out of stock in the supply room, but she also tried to make the work day fun. The secret Santas had been her idea, as had the turkey and stuffing luncheon she organized the day before Thanksgiving. Micah didn't think the condoms would be funny to her. If she had drawn his name, she would've probably bought him something practical, like jumper cables since he had a tendency to leave his headlights on and had borrowed her cables twice in the past year.
Quickly he ticked off the candidates for his secret Santa, looking for the likely culprit. His boss was pushing seventy, too old to still be working but too damn stubborn to turn over the helm to someone else. He was married with three grown children, all of whom had kids of their own. With a neatly trimmed beard that had turned pure white in the five years Micah had worked for him, Mr. Patterson might look like Santa himself, but he wasn't the type to give out gifts like this. He was too old school -- he'd drawn Shelley's name the year before and presented her with a delicately crafted silk scarf monogrammed with her initials. Something she'd never wear in a thousand years, true, but a far cry from a cheap box of rubbers.
Of his other coworkers, Micah knew three were married, two with small children. All three were older, in their forties or close to it, so this sort of gag gift was probably beneath them by now. Then there was Chris, who had a fiancée, and Ryan, an older gay man who was, as far as Micah knew, in a committed relationship with a guy he'd loved in high school then met again years later after college. Sending condoms to another gay man would be tantamount to cheating, at least in Micah's book, and he suspected Ryan would feel the same.
That left Jonathan and Brady, the only two coworkers Micah hung out with outside of work. At thirty, Jonathan was the oldest of the three, but he'd been with Patterson as an intern before he even graduated high school. He had more seniority than most of the others combined. With his dry wit and thinly veiled sarcasm, Jonathan always cracked Micah up. When he first started at the company, he'd been attracted to the lanky fellow, whose close-cropped hair and pale gaze, combined with his immaculate taste in attire, gave him the appearance of an Abercrombie and Fitch model. He had a cool, slightly bored air about him, as well, that only enhanced that image.
When Jonathan had invited Micah out for drinks shortly after he started working at the firm, they spent the evening like old friends catching up on their lives. By the time the check arrived, they were inseparable. One too many beers under Micah's belt prompted Jonathan to offer to let him stay at his place, which was within walking distance from the trendy downtown bar. Micah's whole body hummed with anticipation. All the classic signs were there -- Jonathan's hand lingering a moment too long on Micah's elbow when he steadied his coworker, the apparently casual hip bumps when they brushed together, Jonathan leaning down a little too closely when he wanted to say something to Micah. Not in a relationship at the time and, if he were being honest, without prospects beyond the occasional anonymous hook-up over the weekend, Micah fed off Jonathan's sudden attention. In his mind, they were already back at Jonathan's condo, entwined together in satin sheets that sighed as they made love.
But when they reached the condo, Jonathan dumped a pillow and blanket onto the wraparound sofa while Micah relieved himself. Coming out of the bathroom, he saw the makeshift bed and knew he'd read the signals wrong. Still, his hard cock throbbed against the zipper of his pants and alcohol still hummed in his veins, so when Jonathan stepped back to offer him the sofa, Micah seized his chance. Running a hand up Jonathan's arm, he smiled his most seductive smile. Jonathan gave him a puzzled look that only enticed Micah further. That hand snaked around Jonathan's neck, then pulled the taller man toward him for a hungry kiss.
For one breathless heartbeat, Micah thought he'd cinched the deal. The sofa would go unused and the bed would get a workout that evening. Strong hands came up to cradle Micah's face, holding him close as their lips met.
Then, incredibly, those hands gently pushed him away.
"You're drunk," Jonathan told him.
Micah shook his head. "No, I --"
The way Jonathan said his name made him freeze. Even before the next words were spoken, he knew they were coming. Shit, Micah thought, his mind in a blur. Shit, shit, shit.
With apologetic eyes, Jonathan gave him a sad smile. "I'm not into guys."
"Shit," Micah muttered.
As if it would help, Jonathan offered, "Brady's gay."
Micah groaned. Brady was the only other unattached coworker in their office -- well, except maybe for Shelley, but no one dared ask her if she was dating anyone and, to be frank, no one really cared. Micah couldn't keep the venom from his voice when he spat, "Brady's so flamboyant, it's a wonder he doesn't burst into flames."
"He's a nice guy," Jonathan tried.
"Mr. Patterson's nice," Micah pointed out. "That doesn't mean I want to get with him any time soon."
Jonathan arched one eyebrow knowingly. "Work six months in that office, then try telling me you still think Patterson's nice. He's a mean old bastard."
"He signs the checks." Micah sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose, where a sudden headache had blossomed. His entire evening had veered off course. Under his breath, he mumbled, "Fuck."
Jonathan squeezed his arm, a gesture Micah now saw was nothing more than friendly. "Sleep it off. We won't even remember this in the morning."
Problem was, Micah had remembered it. Even now, years later, the sting of the evening was still bittersweet. Maybe it was because he knew Jonathan wasn't interested, but for some reason Micah only wanted him more.