For encouraging (read: pestering) me to give a little more story to these boys.
I told you the day I wrote this would be the Twelfth of Never…
And to my readers…
Thank you for your continued support and love. *raises glass* Here’s to a happy and healthy 2015.
Cover Artist: Sara York
Editor: Posy Roberts
Proofreaders: Con Riley, Annabelle Jacobs, Jay Northcote
Blind Faith Series © 2014 N.R. Walker
Turning Point Series © 2014 N.R. Walker
Acknowledgment to Totally Bound Publisher
First edition: December 2014
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED:
This literary work may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including electronic or photographic reproduction, in whole or in part, without express written permission.
This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or business establishments, events or locales is coincidental.
The Licensed Art Material is being used for illustrative purposes only.
All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
Intended for an 18+ audience only. This book contains material that maybe offensive to some and is intended for a mature, adult audience. It contains graphic language, homosexual relations, explicit sexual content and adult situations.
The author acknowledges the trademark status and trademark owners of the following wordmarks mentioned in this work of fiction:
Friends: Time Warner Entertainment Company L.C
Cheers: CBS Studios Inc
Birds Without Wings: Book by Louis de Bernieres, Published by Secker & Warburg
iPad: Apple Inc.
Golden Girls: NBC Universal.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: United Artists Media Group. Based on the novel by Ken Kesey
Seven: New Line Film Productions Inc.
Hershey: The Hershey Company.
TWELFTH OF NEVER ~ BLIND FAITH 3.5
The coffee shop was busy, even for a snowy Boston Christmas Eve. The world outside the windows was a whitish-gray, muted and bitterly cold. Inside, the fire was blazing, people were chatting and laughing and the air smelled of Christmas tree pine needles and coffee.
We were always busy, and had been for the five years we’d owned the shop. I was proud of our business, how we knew most of our customers by not just their name, but the names of their friends and pets, where they worked, and of course, how they liked their coffee. With its warm wooden panelling and comfy seats, our coffee shop was a cross between the one in Friends and the bar in Cheers.
Buying the business was the best decision Mark had ever made. Well, correction, second best. The very best decision he’d ever made was finally pulling his head out of his ass and admitting he was in love with me. Or maybe it was when he said yes to marrying me two years ago. Or maybe it was the day last year when he said “I do”….
Mark Gattison, the love of my life. The very crazy, no-filter, funny-as-hell, charming love of my life.
Needless to say, not a day since we finally got together had been boring.
I couldn’t deny the success of the café was Mark’s doing. He was in his element. Everything he thought was lacking in over-franchised, over-impersonalised coffee magnates was typified in our business, and the way most of our customers had become our friends was testament to that. Sometimes, if they were in a hurry or just passing by, they’d call in anyway just to tell us they got the job, or to tell us he or she said yes, or their Grandpa was out of hospital.
It seems a lifetime ago when I think back to Mark in a suit, sitting at his work cubicle, dying a little inside every time he took a phone call about structural cabling.
And then I look at him now, so relaxed, dressed in jeans and a long sleeve tee with his little black apron tied around his waist, serving a customer and laughing. It’s hard to believe he’s the same guy.
He still has perfectly-imperfect dark brown hair, styled just so. His eyes still sparkled with life and an unlimited amount of energy and, in the five years we’d been together, he’d accrued these little laugh lines at the corner of his eyes that made him, somehow, impossibly, even better looking.
And he wore a simple silver band on his left hand that said he was mine.
“You plan on emptying those trays, or you just gonna ogle me all day?” he asked with a grin.
“Oh,” I said, remembering the tray of mugs I was holding. I put them on the counter and shrugged. “Work, ogle, work, ogle,” I said, putting the mugs on top of the coffee machine to stay warm. “It’s a hard job.”
Mark rolled his eyes and smiled. “I wonder if there’s ever been a case of sexual harassment in the work place against a husband before.”
“Oh please,” I scoffed. I gave a pointed nod to the security cameras. “We have tapes of exhibits A through Z of how much you hate it.” It was just last week when he’d dragged me into the storeroom and locked the door. He claimed he had started an exercise program and needed a quick protein fix as he shoved me against the shelves, unzipped my jeans, and went to his knees.
Like I said, never a dull moment.
He grinned without shame. “We should put a camera in the office, over the desk. That’d be a recording I wouldn’t mind re-watching.”
I acted as though I was seriously considering it. “At least tax time wouldn’t be so boring.”
Mark seemed pleased with himself. “I have led you astray.”
“Yes, you have,” I told him. “I used to be innocent.”
Mark grinned proudly, but just then a flurry of noise came through the door in the form of Selena, a dear customer of ours who was one part genius lawyer, one part eccentric coffee lover, and two parts batshit crazy. Needless to say, Mark loved her.
“Oh boys,” she cried, pulling off her scarf and woollen hat. “I’m glad you’re both here. I bought you a little Christmas gift. I hope you don’t mind….”
“Mind?” Mark asked. “Why on Earth would we mind?” He walked around the counter and gave her a kiss on both cheeks. “You’re leaving tomorrow? How’s Bart? I know he hates the boarding kennel.”
Bart was Selena’s cross-eyed Pomeranian. “He does,” she agreed.
“He misses you,” Mark said.
Selena nodded. “It’s only four days. I have to be back by New Year’s. Unfortunately old Judge Philpott lost his festive cheer, along with his backbone and self-respect, and wants us all back in court January first.” Then she tilted her head. “That reminds me. I should call into the butcher and get some testicles. I can send them to Philpott for Christmas. At least then there’ll be one pair in his courtroom while I’m gone.”
Mark was very used to this kind of conversation. He was his mother’s son, after all, and he didn’t miss a beat. “You should ask the butcher for a two-for-one deal. You know, being Christmas and all.”
Selena patted his arm. “You are a dear.” Then she remembered what she came in for. “Oh!” She rummaged through her huge cat-shaped tote bag and pulled out a small box. “Here. For you both.”
Mark ripped into the wrapping paper and opened the box. The look on his face told me it could have quite possibly been the best gift ever. He pulled out two bobblehead figurines: a Santa-hat-wearing Thor and a reindeer Loki.
Mark was teary. “Oh my God,” he said, hugging her. “They’re perfect! Look, Will!” He turned and showed me. In fact he said it so loud, everyone stopped and stared.
Now the whole Batman vs. Robin argument between Mark and me was, thankfully, forgotten. Because in its place was the whole new and equally absurd Thor vs. Loki argument. See, Mark should be Loki, because he’s the sneaky, funny one, and I should be Thor, because he’s blond and sensible, like me.
But oh no…. Thor had a cape. A proper red cape. And Mark refused to be any superhero that didn’t have a red cape. It wasn’t right, he’d said.
And there came a point in a grown man’s life, when he didn’t argue anymore about whether the cape-wearing, hammer-wielding superheroes were better than the weird-horned helmet wearing evil brothers.
So I’d stopped arguing. Mark, on the other hand, did not.
“Look!” he said, holding the figurines up. “I have a Santa hat on, and you have cute reindeer antlers.” He then flicked Loki in the head, making it bobble, and he grinned.
Excellent. Now he could put those two alongside bobblehead Yoda, Chewie, Batman, and Cher.
Yes, Mark had grown and matured over the last five years, but he was still… well, Mark.
He hugged Selena again. “Wait here,” he said, then darted off into the back room. I handed her a takeout coffee and slid one Christmas tree cookie into a bag along with a whole wheat dog bone for Bartholomew. Yes, Mark baked completely edible-for-humans dog treats made of some horrible pumpkin, oats and apple goo that were cut into the shape of bones. I’m not even kidding. He figured with all the dogs that come into the store with their owners, it was only right that we cater for them too.
I told him dogs actually weren’t actually supposed to come into the café, and he simply replied with, “Your mother’s a bitch, and we don’t make her sit outside.”
It was logic I couldn’t argue with.
Mark came back out with a book in his hand. A non-descript book, by the look of the cover. He handed it to Selena. “It’s not wrapped.”
Her eyes went wide. She stared at the book, then at him. “You found it.”
Mark smiled. “Yes. Birds Without Wings. I found it at the secondhand book swap on Chalmers. I know you’ve been looking for this edition.”
She took the book and turned it over in her hands. It didn’t look that great to me, but she was speechless. Still holding her coffee, she hugged him, telling him she’d savor every word and gave him a snively, “Merry Christmas, Mark.”
When she’d left, Mark walked back behind the counter, smiling happily to himself and put the two new-addition bobbleheads with the others.
Knowing I’d get a bite from him, I nodded toward the reindeer Loki. “Those antlers look good on you.”
Mark spun around to look at me, his eyes narrowed. Before he could spiel off some rant about just who was who—because really, he did have the bigger hammer—the door opened again.
It was Carter, Isaac, and Isaac’s gorgeous guide dog, Brady.
They took off their coats and beanies, smiling as they came up to the counter. “Hey,” Carter said with a warm smile. Then he spoke to Isaac. “Will and Mark are behind the counter. Mark’s pouting.”
“I’m divorcing Will,” he said.
“What for this time?” Isaac asked, tilting his head but not at all concerned. This was not uncommon.
Mark sighed. “He said I was the reindeer Loki, when clearly I’m the Santa Thor.”
Isaac nodded. “Of course he did. Well, fair grounds.”
“I know, right?” Mark said, walking back around the counter and giving both of them a kiss on the cheek, taking their coats. “That’s what I thought. I’m sure Selena could get old Judge Philpott on my side. She was heading out to buy him some testicles.”
Carter and Isaac both stopped, and Carter blinked slowly. “Um….”
I snorted. “Ignore him. What can I get for you? The usual?”
“Yes, please,” Carter said.
“Come with me, my favorite husband,” Mark said giving me a final glare over his shoulder as he led Isaac and Brady over to their usual sofa by the fire. Isaac and Mark were, as usual, thick as thieves, heads together, Mark’s arm hooked around Isaac’s and talking about God only knew what.
Carter had known Mark for years, long before I did. He knew exactly what Mark was like. He watched his husband and mine walk off together and shook his head. “How’ve you been this week?”
“Busy.” I frothed the milk as I talked to him. “But good.”
“Do I want to know what Mark was going on about?” he asked.
I nodded toward the bobblehead figurines that lined up along the cash register.
Carter nodded knowingly. “And let me guess. He doesn’t want to be Loki.”
I laughed. “Go and take a seat. I’ll bring these out.”
“You sure?” he asked. “You’re the only one behind the counter. Where’s Nat and Declan?”
“Told them to take today off,” I said with a shrug. “It’s Christmas Eve. Mark and I can handle this. When he’s behind the counter, that is.”
Carter smiled. “I’ll send him over. If I can peel him off Isaac.”
I snorted. “Are Hannah and her lot coming in?”
“Oh, yes,” Carter said, pulling out his wallet. “I’ll need to order for them too. They’ll be here any minute.”
“Put your wallet away,” I told him. I gave a pointed nod to Mark and Isaac. “You best go save Isaac.” I wasn’t lying. Mark was being his handsy self, pawing all over Isaac and making him laugh.
I swear, if it was anyone else, I’d be pissed off. But these two had been like that ever since I’d known them. Harmless, flirty, fun. That, and I knew Isaac was one hundred percent in love with Carter and would never do anything to hurt him. And the thing about Mark was that he was fiercely loyal and committed to me, as much as he pouted and acted like he was five.
Hannah and Carlos arrived with an almost six year old Ada and a four year old Max in tow. They were the cutest kids.
And the source of most of the arguments between me and Mark.
Not Ada and Max specifically, but kids in general. It was the only thing we argued about, ever. Not including the ‘intellectual debates’—as Mark called them—on superheroes, powers, capes, and just how well movies are translated from comics. But I mean, argued. The very first time we argued about having kids, it ended in yelling and door slamming. That kind of arguing.
I wanted kids. I always saw myself having kids. I didn’t want the nightclub life, pissing expendable income down the toilet or snorting it up my nose. Granted, Mark didn’t either. But I wanted the business, the house, kids. I wanted that dream.
He’d argued that he was a kid himself. How could he possibly be in charge of another human being? How could he, of all people, be a responsible father?
Then there was the second time we argued about it. There were no jokes, no smartass comments, no Star Wars references about how the only father/son role model he had to go by was Darth Vader and Luke, and we all know how well that worked out.
There was nothing. Just a quiet, serious, “No.”
He walked out, teary eyed, leaving me alone with a resounding silence in our living room. That was six months ago, and I hadn’t dared bring it up again.
But Mark adored Ada and Max. They’d come in every Sunday, or we’d see them at Carter and Isaac’s place, and they just loved their Uncle Mark. He doted on them, we both did. After our last argument, I guessed if Max and Ada were the only kids I would have in my life, then I’d make the most of it. I spoiled them rotten.
I made an additional two hot chocolates, put some cherry squares I knew the kids loved on the tray, along with some of Mark’s Christmas tree cookies, and carried the tray over. Mark had peeled himself off Isaac—or Carter had to remove him, I wasn’t sure which—and he now had Max on his knee. Ada was showing him some drawing thing on her iPad, Brady was asleep at Isaac’s feet, and everyone was smiling.
I kissed Hannah’s cheek, and shook Carlos’ hand. “Merry Christmas,” I told them. “You’re brave coming out in this weather.”
Hannah shrugged it off. “Isaac said they were coming down here to see you guys, and the kids wanted to see some Christmas lights, so we thought, why not?”
“You’re busier than I was expecting,” Carlos said, looking around the café.
“Yeah,” I agreed. We were busier than I had expected as well. “Maybe they’re last-minute shoppers.”
The door opened with more customers, so I looked at Mark. “Shame I’m working by myself though. Could’ve used some help today.”
“Shhh,” he replied. He never looked up; his tongue peeked out at the corner of his mouth as he concentrated on drawing. “How can I work when I have ponies to draw with Ada?”
I rolled my eyes. It was hard to be mad when he was being cute.
“Want some help?” Isaac asked me. “I might not be any good, but at least it’d be entertaining.”
I laughed and patted Isaac’s shoulder. “That’s the first line on Mark’s CV.”
“Hey!” Mark defended himself. “That’s the second line. The first line is witty, charming, and hung like a—”
“Mark!” Everyone cut him off. Hannah covered Ada’s ears.
I was still chuckling when I got behind the counter. “Sorry to keep you guys. What can I get for you?”
There were four of them. Two guys, one with short blond hair, ruggedly handsome in a pro-athlete kind of way. The second guy was tall with shaggy-spikey black hair, and I’d guess he was half Asian or something, and seriously—seriously—good looking. Then he put his hand on the blond man’s back, in an intimate kind of way, as they looked in the glass display case of cakes, breads, and pie.
There was a girl with them, maybe fifteen years old, African-American, with tight curly hair and bright eyes. And a little boy, maybe four. He had dark brown hair and chubby cheeks, and didn’t look like either of the men—in fact, none of them looked alike—but they were definitely a family.
The girl was crouching down with the young boy, looking in the display counter. She stood up and said, “I’ll have a lemon square. Nicky wants the chocolate cupcake.”
The blond man looked at me. “Two hot chocolates, one of them just warm. One macchiato, one cappuccino. One lemon square, a chocolate cupcake.” He looked to the man beside him. “Want anything, babe?”
He smiled at him. “The pie.”
The blond guy paid for the order, and I started making the coffee first. “You guys can go and grab a table, and I’ll bring it over for you, if you like,” I suggested.
I tried not to watch them as I filled their order. Two guys, two kids, a family; everything I wanted yet wouldn’t have. Maybe Mark saw me watching them, I don’t know, but he came back in behind the counter. “You okay?” he asked quietly.
“Yeah, all good,” I said, giving him a tight smile. “You finished drawing ponies?”
“Yes. I wanted to give the pony stripes but was completely overruled by the kinder-squad over there, because apparently zebras and ponies are not the same thing,” he said, starting to unload the dishwasher. He nodded toward Ada and Max. “It was a unanimous decision.”
I nodded, very used to these types of conversations with Mark, and then carried the tray over to new the customers. The two men sat together on one side of the booth; the two kids sat on the other side. I put the hot chocolates down first in front of each child, the just-lukewarm going to the small boy. After I’d off-loaded the tray, I put a plate with four of Mark’s Christmas tree cookies in the middle of the table. “These are complimentary,” I told them.
Then the blond-haired man spoke at the same time he used sign language, which I realized was aimed at the boy. “Say thank you.”
The girl smiled at me, saying “Thanks,” and the boy repeated the hand signal the man had done.
I smiled at all of them. “You’re very welcome.”
I left them to their drinks and food and went back to serving behind the counter. A few more regulars came in, each who told us all about the nightmare of last minute shopping. I’d bought Mark’s gift ages ago, with no doubt he would absolutely love it, and I would regret it the second I gave it to him.
But we worked in amicable silence for a while, cleaning tables, refilling cups and plates. I guessed the warmth of the café was more inviting against the cold outside, because no one seemed too keen to leave.
Even the family that came in before, the two dads and two kids, seemed quite content to stay. So I took over a bottle of water and four glasses and another plate of Mark’s Christmas tree cookies. “Oh, thank you,” the blond man said.
“My pleasure,” I told them.
Then as I turned to leave, the dark-haired man said, “Um, excuse me?”
“Yes? Is something wrong?”
“No, nothing’s wrong,” he said, smiling. Dear God, his smile…. “I was just wondering if you could tell us a good place to go out for dinner around here? We’re from out of town, and being Christmas Eve and all….”
“Well,” I said, “there’s Julio’s Diner next block down. Does a great burger. Or there’s the Kazbah, a great Turkish place just around the corner. There’s a little Vietnamese place two blocks over called Ho’s Kitchen. And they all do takeout if you don’t want to take the kids out in the cold later on. It’s looking pretty cold outside.” The wind was picking up a bit, the gray sky looking more dismal with each passing hour.
“It is,” the blond man said. “We’re from LA, so yeah, it’s cold.”
“LA? What brings you to Boston for Christmas?” I asked. Then I stopped, realising it was none of my damn business. “Sorry. Forgive my asking.”
“That’s okay,” the dark-haired man said, again with the killer smile. “We’re here to see neurotologist for Nicky,” he said, nodding toward the boy.
“Oh,” I said, a bit shocked. “Is everything okay?” Again, none of my business….
“Oh sure,” the blond man said. He signed as well as spoke out loud. “Nicky was born deaf. We got a last-minute cancellation to see one of the best doctors in the country for cochlear implants.”
“Wow,” I said. “That’s pretty amazing.” Then I thought about it. “You’re seeing the doctor tomorrow, on Christmas Day?”
“No,” the blond man said. “The day after. But flights were this morning, or not at all.”
Ah, well, that made sense. Traveling over the holidays was always hellish. “My mother-in-law flew out to the Bahamas the day before yesterday. The airport was even crazy then. Almost as crazy as her.”
The blond-haired man smiled at that. “Got one of those too, huh?”
I shrugged. “Well, if you could imagine the old mother from Golden Girls and Jack Nicholson’s character from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest holding a gin in one hand and a cigarette in the other, then yes. Except I adore her.”
The blond guy laughed. “I understand, believe me.”
The dark-haired guy smiled. “I’ll tell Mom you said that.”
“She knows,” the blond man said. Then he looked at the two kids. “But the four of us are here together, and that’s what’s important.”
Just then, Max ran over to me. “Uncle Will. Can we have the coloring books?”
“Sure can, kiddo. You know where they are?”
Max nodded and ran behind the counter, helping himself to the coloring pads and pencils we kept here.
The blond guy looked over to where Carter, Isaac, Hannah, Carlos, and the kids were sitting. “Those your family?”
Well, they weren’t by blood, but they were the closest I’d even known to a family. “Yep. And that’s my husband behind the counter.”
The dark-haired man smiled at me. “We thought as much.” Then he made a face. “Sorry if that sounds rude, but we notice these things….”
I grinned at him. “Not rude at all. I know what you mean.” And I did. As a gay man, especially when out in public, I noticed other gay couples: the looks, the gentle touches, the smiles. “I’m Will, by the way,” I said, introducing myself. I gave a nod toward Mark, who was talking to a customer using his hands rather wildly to describe God only knew what. “And that’s my better half, Mark.”
The blond held out his hand to shake. “I’m Matt, this is my husband Kira. Our daughter Claudia, and this little guy, who’s eaten all the cookies, is Nicky.”
My heart suddenly felt too big for my chest. “You have a beautiful family,” I told Matt and Kira. “I hope you enjoy your day together tomorrow and that everything goes well with the doctor.”
“Well, there’s a list of them: audiologist, speech and language pathologist, psychologist, and otolaryngologist,” Kira said, smiling at the boy as he spoke. He signed something and Nicky pouted and pushed the plate with one cookie left on it into the middle of the table. “He’ll be evaluated for cochlear implant candidacy and possible surgery.”
“Wow,” I said again, looking at the boy, then back to his dads. “That really is incredible.” I gave the girl a smile, not wanting her to feel left out. “And you have to keep these three boys in line?”
Claudia smiled at her dads like her being the boss was an inside joke. “Yep. Every day.”
Figuring I couldn’t exactly stand and chat with them all day, I collected their empty cups and dirty plates. Looking at the kids, I asked them, “Would you guys like some coloring books?”
I felt kinda bad offering such a childish thing to a teenaged girl, but she brightened. “Sure!”
Then Kira said, “You don’t mind if we stick around here for a bit? It’s warm inside, and the hotel room is a bit small for the four of us.”
“Not at all. We close at six today, but you’re welcome to stay until then,” I reassured them. “I’ll just grab you the books.”
I gave them some coloring pads and a pack of pencils, and left them to it. But when I walked back behind the counter, putting the tray of mugs and plates at the sink, I needed a minute. I needed to get myself together. There wasn’t anyone at the service counter at that particular moment, and Mark was rearranging things on the cake stand. “I’m just taking five,” I said, not waiting for him to answer, and went in through the ‘staff only’ door.
There were three doors: office, bathroom, and storeroom. I walked straight into the office and closed the door behind me. Leaning my ass against the desk with my eyes closed, I took some deep breaths.
I didn’t know why it hurt so much to see families, to see parents with kids. Maybe it had something to do with my own parents. They’d pretty much cut me from their lives—well, correction: my mother cut me from their lives. When I’d moved to Boston it was bad enough, but then me marrying Mark was the final straw. Strangely enough, I was okay that. I had Mark and his family. Mark’s mother was fabulous and understanding and supportive—albeit a little eccentric—and not the least bit maternal, but she loved me like a son.
We had Carter and Isaac and Hannah’s kids, and they were great.
But I wanted more. I wanted my own family.
And feeling my chest tighten when I was talking to that couple and their kids, pretty much told me what I already knew. What I didn’t really want to admit.
Maybe I really wasn’t okay with Mark’s stance on not having kids.
I knew at some point I’d have to broach the subject again, knowing we’d fight again, knowing it wouldn’t get me anywhere.
What was the resolution?
One of us would have to give in, to compromise completely. And I just didn’t think I could.
Should I ignore the ache in my chest every time I thought of the family I’d never have? If I did, would I resent him? Would it cost me Mark? Would it cost me my marriage to the man I loved more than anything? Should I give him what he wanted because I loved him?
I put my head in my hands and took another deep breath. Christmas was not the time to bring it up. I didn’t want to ruin our holiday.
There was a quiet knock on the door. “Will?” The door opened a little and Mark peeked through. “You okay?”
“Yeah.” I tried to smile for him.
Mark pushed the door open wider and walked in, not hesitating for one second to slide his arms around me. He held me tight and kissed the side of my head. But he never said a word. He never asked what was wrong—I guessed he didn’t have to.
He loosened his hold on me and lifted my chin, gently pressing his lips to mine. “I love you, Will Parkinson.”
I nodded. His words warmed me through, filling me with a peace that only he could. “I love you, too.”
Mark smiled and kissed me again. “We’d better get back out there, or Isaac will start serving people.”
I snorted. “God forbid.”
“Truth be told, I think he’d be better than Carter.”
The afternoon pressed on, customers talked and laughed, Mark put Bing Crosby’s Christmas CD over the speakers, and the day got darker outside.
I checked the clock on the wall. 4:50 p.m.
“What’s up?” Mark asked.
“Just thought we’d be quieter than this,” I answered. The family of four, Matt and Kira and their kids left not long ago, but most of our regulars were still here. Carter and Isaac, Hannah and Carlos, still hadn’t moved. Ada and Max had made Christmas tree drawings, cut them out and given them to customers. The chatter was loud, the laughter louder, and no one seemed to want to go home.
Mark looked around the café, somewhat nervously. Then I caught Anika, one of our regulars, look to the clock, then to Mark. And she smiled. Which, knowing Mark, could only mean one thing….
They were here; everyone was here because Mark was planning something.
I turned to him. “Mark? What have you done?”
He had the decency to look shocked. “What? I haven’t done anything.” But then he mumbled something about restocking the milk fridge, and he darted out the ‘staff-only’ door.
Then suddenly two customers decided they needed refills and a toasted sandwich, though I was pretty sure they didn’t actually want anything else to eat or drink. No, they only wanted to keep me busy. And just when I’d almost gotten their orders done, a guy I’d never seen before came in to the café. He was wearing a big coat, a beanie and he was holding a big basket-box looking thing. “Delivery for Mark Gattison.”
I had two customers at the counter, and Mark was nowhere to be seen. Carter intervened, thankfully. “Come with me,” he said, leading this unknown man into the back room. I kinda thought Carter would have just gone and got Mark, but whatever.
I finished serving the customers as the man, now boxless, gave me a smile, a wave, and a “Merry Christmas” on his way out.
The café had gone pretty quiet, most everyone was trying not to look at me, or at the door Mark and Carter had disappeared through.
They were all in on whatever Mark had planned, and I was pretty sure I was going to kill Mark in front of them all. I had the newspaper headline scroll through my head of Man Kills Husband with Christmas Tree Cookie Cutter and wondered briefly what they served in prison on Christmas morning.
Then Carter walked back out, not even trying to hide his smile, and Mark followed him. He was carrying the basket-box, which now adorned a whopping big red bow. He carefully lowered it onto the table near Isaac and Hannah, and finally looked at me. He took a deep breath.
“Now, Will,” he started.
I put my hand up. “Nothing good ever starts with that.”
A few people laughed. I wasn’t trying to be funny. This was Mark we were talking about, and Lord only knew some of the things he thought would be a good idea.
Mark wiped his hands on his thighs. He was really nervous. He looked around the café and tried to smile. Everyone was now either standing or sitting watching us. Stan, one of our bigger clients, now stood in the doorway, I realized, to stop me from bolting out of it.
“Mark?” I said as calmly as I could manage. “What’s in the box?”
He smiled and puffed out a loud breath. “Well, it’s not like the movie Seven, Will. There isn’t a head in the box.”
“Well, that’s comforting,” I said, still looking at the offending present. I was now pretty certain I was going to hate whatever came out of it.
“Okay,” Mark started again. “Now, I just want you to listen, and hear me out before you say anything. And Stan’s got the door for me, so you can’t leave.”
I could feel my blood pressure rise. “Mark?”
“Well, we talked about having kids…. Actually,”—he made a face—“you talked and I yelled and slammed some doors, and I’m really sorry I did that. I want you to know—”
Oh, dear mother of God. “Mark, is there a baby in that box?”
He barked out a laugh. “What? No, no.” Then he looked at the box and shrugged. “Well, not really.”
“I had a speech planned and it was gonna be perfect and funny, naturally, and now you’ve made me forget what I was going to say.”
I rubbed my temples. “Mark, it’s Christmas Eve. I’d really not like to fight about this today.” I looked around the café then back at him, and whispered, “In front of everyone. What were you thinking?”
I could tell from the look on his face, he was just about to panic. “Well, I was thinking maybe it was something we could talk about again. I see how much you want it. You see someone with a kid and you just die inside because you think you can’t have it, and it kills me—it kills me, Will—that you’d think I would make you give up that for me. Because I wouldn’t.” He shook his head, on the verge of tears. “I want you to have it all, Will. What kind of husband would I be if I didn’t?”
I didn’t understand. I couldn’t speak.
He opened the box. “So I thought we could start with something a little less human. You know, for me, really, because I have the most to learn.” Then Mark looked in the box. “Oh, he chewed it.”
I was too scared to ask. Actually, I could barely string a clear thought together.
Then Mark reached into the box and pulled out a puppy.
It was a chocolate Labrador puppy. Mark held it against his chest and tried to put some Christmas antlers on it, and then he reached back into the box and pulled out a chewed-up piece of paper of some sort. When he was all done, he turned and looked at me and the both of them grinned.
A dog was his answer?
I didn’t mean to shake my head. “Mark… We can’t have a dog here.”
“Well,” he answered, “I knew you were gonna say that?” He looked over to Isaac. “Isaac?”
Isaac, our very dear blind friend, stood up and held up a guide dog harness.
I looked back at Mark. “Is it training to be a guide dog?”
“No,” he answered brightly. “Just if the health and safety guy turns up, we’ll put the harness on him and someone here can sit with him like they’re blind.”
Oh. My. God.
I looked slowly around the café. Everyone was smiling, some nodded, that yes they would do that for us.
He stepped over to me. “Here. He wants to give you this,” Mark said. I could see he was still nervous and there was a desperate kind of hope in his eyes. “He wasn’t supposed to chew it.”
I took the chewed up paper, which I realised was a pamphlet. I unfolded it the best I could, and tried to make out the words.
Adopting a Child in the State of Massachusetts.
My eyes shot to Mark’s. He nodded. “I figure it will take a year or two, or maybe more, but I figured this guy”—he lifted the puppy—“would be good practice for me. Because God knows I’m gonna need all the help I can get.”
I threw my arms around him and hugged him, probably squashing the puppy in between us. “Do you mean it?” I asked, half mumbling, half crying into his neck.
“Yes. Of course I mean it.”
“You’re gonna be such a good dad,” I said, more crying than mumbling this time.
There was clapping and cheering all around us. Congratulations and hugs from Carter and Isaac, Hannah and Carlos, then our closest regular customers who had long become friends.
Mark handed the puppy to me. He was heavier than he looked, warm and smelled of… well, puppy. Carter was soon beside me, giving the dog a gentle scratch under the chin. “He’s a handsome little fella.”
“You knew about this, didn’t you?”
He smiled. “Of course. When Mark first asked me, I sourced out the best breeder.”
“Do I want to know how long he’s had this planned?”
Carter snorted. “Probably not.” He looked over to where Isaac was standing with Hannah. “Can I show him to Isaac?”
“Sure,” I said, passing the puppy over.
I could feel someone watching me, and sure enough, through a mix of people between us, I found Mark staring at me. He was smiling, beaming actually, and he walked over to me. And despite everyone around us, it was like there was just him and me in the room.
“Mark,” I started to say.
He took my face in his hands and kissed me, somewhat appropriately considering the company.
I shook my head. “I can’t believe you had everyone in on this!”
“I needed the moral support, and to make sure you wouldn’t flip your shit at me, or leave.”
“I would never leave.”
“Everyone wanted to be here, Will,” he said softly. “As long as I didn’t make them learn moves to that bloody Rick Astley song.”
I laughed, remembering how I’d done exactly that with our customers when I’d asked him to marry me.
I looked over at Carter who was showing Isaac the puppy, letting him feel the silky ears and soft puppy fur. “So, does this new addition have a name?” Isaac asked.
A quiet fell across the café.
I looked at Mark, because I had no clue. “Um,” Mark said. “Ooh, I know! Bucky Barnes.”
Mark frowned. “Well, we can’t call him Bruce Banner, because that’s just wrong. Oh, what about Clint Barton?”
“No Avengers, Mark,” I said. These types of conversations were an everyday occurrence with Mark, so I wasn’t at all surprised, though a few people laughed.
“Oh!” Mark cried, even more excited. “I know! What about Groot?”
Mark pouted and took the puppy from Isaac and held him between us. We both petted him for a little while, looking at his big brown eyes and puppy smile, trying to think of the best name. “What does he look like to you?” Mark asked.
I took the little guy from Mark and held him against my chest. He was such a gorgeous color, such a rich chocolate brown.
I smiled. “Hershey.”
A slow smile spread across Mark’s lips, and he kissed the side of my head. “Hershey it is.” Mark re-fixed little Hershey’s Christmas reindeer antlers and looked at me. He put his hand to my face, kissed me softly, and whispered, “Merry Christmas, Will.”
Later that evening, I stood in our kitchen holding Hershey, while Mark got his dishes with food and water organized on the floor. We’d closed the café at a little after six, promising Carter, Isaac, Hannah, Carlos, and the kids we’d see them for Christmas lunch tomorrow. We really just wanted to get our new little addition home.
“Oh.” I just remembered something. “I’ll leave it up to you to tell your mom she’s now a grandma.”
Mark laughed at first, then with a resigned sigh, he pulled out his cell phone and slid it onto the counter. “Ugh. You had to say her name, didn’t you?”
I chuckled, telling Hershey, “Your daddy thinks your grandma is a demon with name-summoning powers.”
Mark smiled with a tilt of his head. “Aww, look at you with him. You’re so cute.”
Then, because his mom is a demon with name-summoning powers, his phone rang. He picked the phone up and without even looking at the caller ID, he answered, “Hey, Mom.”
I put Hershey down on the floor so he could eat some supper, and leaned back against the kitchen counter. Mark planted himself against me, his feet between mine, one arm around my waist, his chin on my shoulder and he talked to his mom.
Now, the thing with Mark and his mother is that they’re very rarely serious. Don’t get me wrong, they love each other dearly, they’re closer than most mother/son types out there, but there was usually always banter, some affectionate name calling, but mostly a whole lotta love.
But tonight it was serious; Mark’s voice was quiet. Not sad, just one of those rare moments between Mark and his mom that was, for all intents and purposes, a normal conversation. Apparently his mom knew all about the new four-legged addition he’d organized, and the pending adoption conversation it would lead to. Wanting to give him some privacy, I kissed his cheek and slipped out from where he was leaning against me. He frowned at me, for nothing less, I’m sure, than I was more comfortable to lean against than the counter top.
I turned the Christmas tree lights on first, then fixed Hershey’s bed in the living room, putting everything Mark had bought—unbeknownst to me—and made it as comfortable for him as I could. I adjusted the heating and remembered reading somewhere that puppies liked to sleep with hot water bottles and a ticking alarm clock. Well, the hot water bottle I could manage, but given the only alarms we had in the house were our phones, I took off my watch and snuck it under the blanket.
When Hershey was done eating, and peeing a tiny circle on the kitchen tiles, I put him in his bed.
By this time, Mark was sitting on the sofa watching me. The conversation with his mother had returned to their version of normal. “Really, Mom? Santa jokes?” Mark snorted. “I don’t know, Mom, why does Santa only come once a year?” Then he scrunched up his face and laughed, at what I’m certain must have been a disgusting punchline to her joke. “I’m pretty sure that’s not why Rudolf’s nose is red, Mom.”
Oh, dear God. Leaving Hershey in his bed, I crawled over to Mark and knelt between his legs, putting my hands on his thighs. “Tell her I said hi.”
“Will says hi,” Mark repeated. He laughed again at something she must have said, then said, “Mom said to say Merry Christmas, and get a good feel of Santa’s sac.”
I snorted out a laugh. “Tell her Merry Christmas too.”
Mark raised one eyebrow. “No lewd comments about naughty elves, or candy canes?”
“No, I’ll leave that up to you two.”
His mom was saying something I couldn’t quite hear, and with his free hand, Mark started to undo his jeans and looked down at his crotch. “Mom, I have to go. Will’s about to have his mouth full. Talk to you tomorrow.”
He disconnected the call without waiting for a response and threw it on the sofa beside him, and then with two free hands, undid his fly properly and pulled his dick out of his briefs.
I looked over my shoulder at the now-sleeping puppy. “Not in front of the kids, Mark.”
He snorted out a laugh and stroked himself. “Well, surely he couldn’t object to us doin’ it doggy style.”
I stood up, took his hands, and pulled him to his feet. “To bed.”
I was barely naked, my ass prepped, when Mark froze. “Sshh. Did you hear that?”
I listened, which was quite difficult to hear anything over my pounding heart and thrumming blood. I was ready for him. I mean, he was just about to fuck me. I wanted him inside me….
Then I heard it.
A tiny little puppy whimper.
It was so cute and heartbroken. Hershey must have woken up and realized he was alone.
Mark leapt off the bed, pulled on his briefs, shoving his hard-on in the best he could, without so much as a grimace, and he ran out of the room.
I buried my face into my pillow and groaned. I was ready, dammit….
Then Mark came in, holding Hershey. He clicked on the bedside lamp, to which my retinas horrendously objected, and climbed onto the bed.
Sex seemingly forgotten—a first ever for Mark—he lay down, putting Hershey in between us, and pulled up the covers.
“But Mark,” I started.
“But he was all alone,” he countered.
“But I was ready.”
“But he was crying.”
Hershey’s head popped out the top of the covers and his little tongue peeked out the side of his mouth. He was certainly much happier here with us, and with a similar look on Mark’s face, I couldn’t object. “Just for tonight.”
Mark nodded, just as Hershey plonked himself down and lay against his chest. The little dog put his head down on his paws and closed his eyes. Mark looked at me and smiled, making my heart skip a beat.
I looked at the two of them for a long while. “You hungry?” I asked. “I’ll go out and make us some dinner if you like.”
“Can we just lay here a while?” Mark whispered. He held out his hand which I took, threading our fingers. “This is kinda nice, yeah?”
I lifted our joined hands to my lips and kissed his knuckles. “Thank you. What you did today. What you said….”
“It was all true,” he said. “And don’t think I’m just agreeing to adoption because you want it. I want it too. I want that with you, no matter what kind of dad I’ll be.”
“You’ll be the very best kind,” I told him. “You’ll be the dad who dresses up as a princess with our little girl to go shopping for princess stuff. Or the dad who wears a tutu because our son wants to do ballet, or play football or whatever. You’ll be their number-one supporter.”
He chuckled. “I’m starting to think you think I’m a cross-dresser.”
“Or the dad who home bakes organic dog treats for this little guy,” I said, letting go of Mark’s hand to gently pet a sound-asleep Hershey. “You’ll be pretty amazing, Mark.”
He smiled. “So will you.” Then his smile turned into a smirk. “And you know what else you’d be amazing at?”
“Being bent over the back of the sofa.”
I stifled a laugh, not wanting to wake the dog.
“He’s sound asleep,” Mark whispered.
I didn’t need telling twice. I rolled out of bed and snatched the lube off the bedside table. “Hang on,” I said before Mark moved too far. I came back into the bedroom with the hot water bottle and transferred it to replace Mark’s body heat. Mark pulled the blankets up over Hershey, took my hand, and led me to the living room and to the back of the sofa.
He kissed me, sliding his tongue into my mouth, holding my face and kissing me deeply. I rubbed his dick through the material of his briefs. I knew this man, my husband—what he liked, what drove him crazy, what made him come. With a moan, he finally pulled his lips from mine, he turned me around, and with a hand on my shoulder, leaned me over the back of the sofa.
He wasted no time, he didn’t even pull his briefs all the way down. He just slicked us both with lube, pressed his dick against my willing ass, and pushed in. All the way in, every inch of him, and then he started to fuck me.
It was slow and deep, at the perfect height, with perfect angles for seeing stars. He gripped my hips and thrust into me until he gripped a little harder and thrust all out of rhythm, finally, deliciously, emptying his cock inside me.
He pressed his forehead against my back until he’d caught his breath, then turned me around so he could kiss me properly. “Sorry I couldn’t wait. Give me ten minutes and it’ll be your turn,” he murmured against my lips. Like I knew his body, he knew mine; he knew I liked to come with his dick in my ass. He chuckled to himself. “I’m trying to think of a Santa joke about only coming once, but the room’s still spinning.”
I snorted out a laugh and held his face, kissing his lips, his cheeks, his eyelids.
We did have sex again on the sofa that night, though it was more making love. Slow and perfect, with hand-holding and whispered sweet nothings and words of love. When we were done and laying in each other’s arms, we heard a lonesome Hershey whimper from our bed.
“I’ll get him,” Mark said with a sigh. He looked at his watch. “It’s after midnight.” He leaned up and kissed me. “Merry Christmas, Will.”
He walked, stark naked, down the hall to our room, while I lay on the sofa in a state of post-coital, marital bliss. I don’t remember ever feeling so fucking happy.
I smiled at Mark when he came back out with our new little addition. “Remember when you said the day you’d be married and have kids would be the twelfth of never?”
Mark put Hershey on the sofa with me and kissed me again. “Merry Twelfth of Never, Will.”
Matt, Kira, Claudia and Nicky from my Turning Point Series, appear in this free Christmas short story, courtesy of Totally Bound. I’d like to thank Totally Bound Publishing for happily allowing these characters to turn up in a different book.
You can find more information on Turning Point, and Totally Bound, at the Publisher’s website https://www.totallybound.com/series/turning-point