Title: 'Tis the Reason
Author: Madeline McEwen
Genre: M/M Erotic Romance, LGBT Short Reads
Derek Cuthbertson, Cubby to his friends, first sets eyes on Berty, whom he assumes to be a ramshackled homeless guy on the street, a few days before Christmas. Little does Cubby know, that Berty will turn out to be the best holiday present he could ever have imagined. Berty isn't gift-wrapped but he's the whole package--signed, sealed, and delivered in the nick of time.
Derek Cuthbertson, Cubby to his friends, gave the guy a second glance as he waited at the stoplight. He had geeky out-of-towner written all over him. What kind of idiot tried to hitchhike out of San Jose at lunchtime from a street crossing? Cubby’s mantra “never again,” tickled the back of his brain. He shouldn’t. He wouldn’t. He couldn’t. Besides, with Christmas less than a week away, he had neither the time nor the energy. Focus on the business. If the ad campaign didn’t pull enough buyers in over the next few days, Cub’s Closets would fold for sure.
The light changed and Cubby hit the gas, but he couldn’t help taking another peek in the rearview mirror. GOOT, the geeky out-of-towner, stood weighed down by his rucksack with a sorrowful “pick-me” expression like the runt in every litter. How many fools got duped into panic buying that on Christmas Eve? Not Cubby. Not this time. He left that puppy stranded and kicked it curbside. Was that cruel? He didn’t care. He heard a splat and saw a bird stain on the back window. Damn. Why had he cleaned the car that very morning?
His phoned buzzed. Mom―call me Glenda now that I’m divorced.
“Hey, Cubby. Can you pick up some eggnog, OJ, and milk on your way home?”
“Why? Are you dehydrated?”
“I’m pretty hot and sweaty after this morning’s baking session. I’ve made your favorite, macaroons, but we don’t have a drop to drink in the house.”
“Don’t tell me,” he swung a right onto Camden Avenue, and pulled into the 7-Eleven , “you’re desiccated on the kitchen floor as dry as coconut flakes.”
“You can sweep me up when you get here and throw my crumbs in the trash. Now hurry. We’ve got people coming over.”
* * *
Inside the convenience store his friend, Lavith, raised a hand in greeting while he served another customer.
Cubby moved swiftly to the chill cabinet, grabbed the cartons, and took them to the checkout. Canned holiday music filled the airspace. The counter was crammed with last minute stocking stuffers, cheap, plastic, gimmicks, and a motley collection of well-thumbed candy.
“Glenda still sending you on errands?” Lavith said with a grin. He never missed a chance to make fun of the fact that Cubby still lived at home.
“What’s a boy supposed to do?” Cubby said. They’d known each other since grade school. “Got to keep her happy. Talking of happiness, do you have any window cleaner? Some shitty bird decided to ruin my already crappy day.”
Lavith shook his head with an ironic sigh. “There, behind you on automotive. Oops, we’ve run out. Sorry, Cubby, you’re just gonna have to put up with a less than perfect car for five seconds.” He grinned again, always ready with a gentle dig or a tease because he owned and drove a camper van, and worse, he didn’t care. “Why don’t you try some dishwasher fluid instead? Cheaper too.”
“Don’t want to scratch the glass.”
“It’s safe in dishwashers. Not going to damage your window.” Lavith grabbed a small bottle from the shelf behind him and slapped it on the counter. “Only another couple of dollars.”
“Okay. Sold. You’re a great salesman,” he said halfheartedly, “unlike me.” Ever since he could remember, Cubby had dreamed of owning his own business, being his own boss, and showing everyone he could succeed with only his high school diploma. Seven years later, Cub’s Closets had grown, but he still couldn’t carve out a reliable income. How he hated the booms and slumps. He’d love to settle for steady.
Providing a personal shopping service to men who couldn’t tell the difference between a penny loafer and a penny-farthing, or worse, didn’t care, had become Cubby’s paying clientele. What he needed was more monthly subscribers to the service; they were both the backbone and the cushion between scraping the bottom of the ocean and soaring away to the distant horizon of plain sailing.
“Don’t know if I could stick it out,” Lavith said, ringing up the purchases, “living at home with your English Mom. But then again, my Mom’s got her own agenda too. Hers is a whole different story. You wouldn’t believe the latest woman she’s got lined up for me.”
“Oh yes, I would.” Cubby couldn’t imagine the hassle of a constant stream of suitable brides. He preferred the vicarious experience from a safe distance. Cubby’s mom had many faults but at least she accepted the status quo with no regrets, guilt, or ill will.
“You got any time over the holidays?” Lavith asked. “Thought we might hang out, go see a movie.”
“No way. Even if I wasn’t up to my ears in orders, I wouldn’t want to risk upsetting your nuptial plans. You’ll have to make up other excuses to your mom. I’m not a get-out-of-jail-free card over the holidays.”
Lavith stuffed the cartons into a bag. “Don’t tease. It’s not funny. This is my life we’re talking about here. I’m only twenty-five.”
“Will you make it to New Years, that’s the question? We’re all taking bets.”
Lavith pulled a face.
Another customer came through the door and Cubby leaned forward to whisper, “My money’s on a date in June. I’ll buy your wedding outfit, my gift. You’ll be the best-looking groom at your Brahm Vivaah, high-society, wedding.”
“You can laugh, but Mom already bought the clothes, imported them from Pushkar, Rajasthan. Anyway, I don’t think Cub’s Closets caters to foreigners like me.”
Cubby looked at his friend, dark-eyed with the hangdog expression of defeat. “You’re not a foreigner, Lavith, you’re as American as one of those packaged apple pies.” He pointed at the cake aisle full of Ding Dongs, Twinkies, and Sno Balls. “And, you’ll last a whole lot longer.”
Lavith didn’t laugh but his jaw relaxed and he broke into another engaging smile. Cubby admired his tenacity, holding down this shitty job while he worked his way through college part-time. No silver spoons for him. Cubby didn’t understand the first thing about his computer, a glorified typewriter, but Lavith had real computer skills and soon he’d be a fully qualified web analyst. This summer he’d finally graduate, then with the right career move, he could leave and make his own life, be that single or partnered.
“See you,” Lavith said as he turned to the next customer.
Cubby returned to his car and saw the GOOT and his rucksack shambling toward the convenience store. Poor guy. Had he walked all this way? Cubby dithered on the curb. Seeing him this close he looked so much taller than when Cubby had first noticed him from the driver’s seat. What his mother called, lanky and always sounded like an insult. Tall yet somehow vulnerable. Should he offer him a ride this time? No, he was already late after running pointless errands, he had to stick to his plan. There was no room in his life for any more complications.
He drove to 2017 Maple Avenue, his safe haven although fraught with his mother’s domestic trivia, her dog, Cyril, and his fledgling and floundering business enterprise, Cub’s Closets. That said, whatever was around the corner for Cubby, it couldn’t be as bad as Lavith’s fate. In fact, now that he thought about it for a minute, Lavith was more like a corndog, crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. His domineering mother could eat him for breakfast in less than three bites or swallow him whole and spit out the bones.
What I love most about the holiday season:
Unscheduled time full of fun and frivolity.
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Madeline McEwen is an ex-pat from the UK, bi-focaled and technically challenged. She and her Significant Other manage their four offspring, one major and three minors, two autistic, two neurotypical, plus a time-share with Alzheimer's. In her free time, she walks the canines and chases the felines with her nose in a book and her fingers on a keyboard.
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