Two weeks ago, I decided to dust off another old short story and re-work it in time to celebrate the winter holiday season. Lots of coffee and late nights later, “A Hometown Holiday” was ready to go.
This story is set in Amherst, Massachusetts, a small town in the western part of the state. Two of five total schools in the the Five College Consortium are located in Amherst, and it’s home to a large number of roughly 38,000 students attending those schools. Once upon a time, I was one of those students and it was during that time my love of writing grew from hobby into something deeper. I fell a bit in love with the Pioneer Valley and set “A Hometown Holiday” there as a homage of sorts to the four years I spent learning so much.
Life in a college town suits Josh Cassidy. He has good friends and neighbors, and the bookshop café he runs with his family is thriving. As the winter holidays begin, Josh finds himself enamored with police officer, Alex Curiel, an old friend who has recently moved back to town. The trouble is, Alex isn’t ready for the world to know he’s attracted to men.
At Alex’s request, Josh agrees to closet their relationship, but the secrecy quickly becomes a burden. When Josh realizes he is falling for Alex, he has more and more trouble denying his feelings. Soon, both men are forced to decide if hiding behind closed doors is the kind of future they’re looking for.
After work, Josh walked four blocks down Pleasant Street to Jamison’s Pub. He smiled as he imagined his sister’s knowing look, especially after he found Alex at the bar talking with Matt, who was pouring drinks for the after-work and -school crowd. Alex glanced up at Josh’s approach and his smile seemed to light the room.
“Hey, Josh.” Matt set his hands on the bar top. “Alex was just telling me that you’ve been making him listen to your old man music.”
Alex grimaced. “I never called it old man music.”
“No, I did,” Matt countered.
“And I said that I didn’t mind listening to it,” Alex said. “A roommate of mine in college liked jazz.”
“Then your roommate had crap taste in music, too.” Matt moved to pour a pint of Josh’s favorite ale. “Listen, man. Josh and I met on the first day of kindergarten. He’s always been a scrawny, ginger-headed fuckface who listens to oldies and worships the Rat Pack.”
Josh shrugged out of his coat and pulled up a stool. “Now you’re just making shit up. I didn’t start listening to jazz until middle school and I’ve never worshipped the Rat Pack. I’m not even scrawny anymore. It’s not my fault you can’t see past Coldplay and Radiohead. Both bands I like, by the way,” he said to Alex.
Matt made an exasperated sound. “And you wonder why you’re still single.”
“Some people like a little variety.” Josh accepted the pint Matt handed him with a smile. “And one of these days, the right man is going to figure out that I know what I’m talking about when it comes to the old man music. Now shut up and give me a menu, please, because I feel the urge to eat myself into a food coma.”
Matt slapped some menus down before he moved away to take another order, and Alex eyed Josh with a grin.
“The right man, huh?”
Josh smiled. “It could happen. Sorry I was late.”
“I should hope so. Matt started harassing me the minute I set foot in the door, and I’m so hungry I could eat my own hand.”
“Oh, shit.” Josh laughed. “Well, that’s easy enough to fix. How about we split an order of poutine? Would that make you happy?”
“Yes, it would.” Alex’s eyes gleamed. He loved the decadent combination of French fried potatoes, brown gravy, and cheese curds. “But I thought you weren’t a fan?”
“It’s growing on me. Besides, the look on your face every time you eat it makes up for the weird, funky cheese.”
“Okay then, poutine to start.” Alex laughed and ran a hand over his chin. “I sort of dig your music, you know, no matter what Matt says. It’s wild and beautiful.” He dropped the hand to his beer glass and brushed his knuckles against Josh’s. “Like you. You’re beautiful,” he murmured.
For a moment, Josh forgot where they were. He forgot that he and Alex were keeping a secret, and were far more than friends behind closed doors. His cheeks flushed, his heart beat a little faster, and he simply admired Alex’s handsome face.
“You’re the beautiful one,” he said, voice quiet.
They continued like that while they ate—flirting while pretending they were not, almost touching but never quite daring—and Josh’s desire burned hotter with every minute. After dinner, the short drive from the pub to Josh’s house seemed to take forever, and the front door had hardly closed behind them before they pounced on each other.
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