Holidays are for lovers, just apparently not Ben Haggerty. Not this holiday. After his degree-seeking lover leaves humble blue-collar Ben, Ben spends the Yuletide miserable. He's not accustomed to being alone, not after seven years. Eventually Ben finds his lover's new address and sends him a greeting card asking when he'll come back home—only to learn in the returned correspondence that his card reached the wrong address and another man, Jason Prescott, by mistake.
Jason is touched by Ben's appeal to his lover, and he and Ben spend months growing close as pen pals. Frequently exchanged correspondence turns into weekends spent together, but after learning Jason's working on his second master's degree and is even smarter than Ben's ex, Ben wonders if Jason will be able to love someone as ordinary as he is.
- 4 Read lists
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Heat Level: 2
Romantic Content: 4
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: 18-25
Protagonist 2 Age: 26-35
Tropes: Friends to Lovers
Word Count: 32000
Languages Available: English
Jason got the first card on St. Patrick’s Day. He recognized the Hallmark envelope—the gold crown on the back flap was a dead giveaway—and he had to smile. That was his big sister. She’d send a card at the drop of a hat, even now that she was married. He could count on one arriving for every known holiday, and some that weren’t well known, such as National Sisters Day, even though he was Jen’s brother. He especially liked the card she’d sent for Hug a GI Day earlier in the month, because he was gay, she knew it, and it didn’t matter to her.
He’d come out to her when he was sixteen. God, he’d been so scared. “Jen… do you still love me?”
“Jason Prescott, if you ever say anything so idiotic again, I’ll give you such a hit! I’ll love you forever. And so will the rest of our family!”READ MORE
And while it had taken his dad some time to get used to the idea—“Are you going to start dressing like Liza Minnelli now?”—he’d completely forgotten about it when Eddie, Jason’s twin, announced his girlfriend was pregnant and they were getting married. Of course she wasn’t, and they weren’t, but it took the spotlight off Jason long enough for his dad to realize there were worse things in life than having a gay son. Especially since that gay son wouldn’t be making anyone pregnant.
Smiling at the memory of that day and those cards, he brought this one in with the rest of the mail—bills, the latest issues of TV Guide and People, and an envelope he knew would contain address labels from a charity that wanted a donation. He set those aside, scrounged up the letter opener, and slit the flap of the envelope, curious to see what his sister had sent this time.
Knowing Jen, he wouldn’t be surprised to find a card she’d saved from Halloween or Christmas, or even one wishing him a very merry un-birthday when it wasn’t his birthday. Just as on his actual birthday, he could look forward to a card saying something like “Happy Seventy-fifth!” which was what she’d sent when he’d turned twenty-three a few months ago.
Oh. Turned out it was none of the above. On the front was the saddest-eyed basset hound he’d ever seen. And the words that encircled it.... I miss you more than words can tell? Okay, Jason’s sister could be a little wacky. A couple of years ago, after he’d obtained his first master’s degree and announced he was pulling on his big boy pants and moving to a place of his own—which was only two miles away from home—she’d sent him a card that said “Make your birthday a spiritual occasion” with “birthday” crossed out and “moving away” neatly printed above it.
This card, though, it appeared too… normal.
Nothing was crossed out on this, so the kicker must be inside. It would either be some ridiculously saccharine printed sentiment or else something so inappropriate, it would take him weeks of dedicated hunting to find a card that would top it.
He opened the card, startled to see it was all handwritten, and not in his sister’s elegant penmanship. This was a very neat, but obviously masculine hand, and he scanned it quickly.
Hmm. This wasn’t from anyone he knew. It must have come to him by mistake, and it seemed to be from a guy whose girl had left him.
Sweetheart, he read.
First of all, Merry Christmas. I know it’s belated, but I hope you had a wonderful holiday. The next line had been covered with whiteout, and written over it was, Mine was fine.
It’s been more than three months. I know you asked me to give you some space, but I can’t stand this silence between us any longer.
I keep asking myself what I did to drive you to the point that you felt you had to leave—
whatever it was, I regret it more than I can say. Please forgive me.
Jason frowned. No man should grovel like that. Already he didn’t like this woman.
I couldn’t stay in the apartment we shared for the past three and a half years, so I’ve moved to a condo at Caravan Point. I’m sure you remember it. We used to make fun of the old farts who lived there. Whoever thought I’d be one of them one day?
I’m including my new address.
An address label was stuck on the left side of the card. He lived in Greenedale, which was just a hundred or so miles west of Wooster, and his name was Ben Haggerty.
Jason liked the name. It sounded rugged, like someone who worked with his hands. He’d always had a weakness for that kind of man, although he’d never dated one. They’d seemed so tough and competent, while he was just a perpetual student who was lucky if he could screw in a light bulb the right way.
If Mr. Haggerty were younger—and not hopelessly in love with someone else—would he look twice at Jason?
He sighed. There were only a few more lines, and he resumed reading.
You said you’d come back to me, but when? I love you, sweetheart, and I miss you so much.
Please write, if only to let me know you’re okay. It will be eight years in a few months, and that’s too long a time to throw away.
Poor old guy. Jason felt sorry for him, especially considering how heartbroken he sounded even after three months.
But eight years together. Wow. Jason had never been in love with anyone for longer than a week, but during those seven days his feelings had burned hot and high. Once it was over, though, and after another week or two to recover, he’d be back in the saddle.
It was obvious that Mr. Haggerty was still pining for her.
God, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have someone miss me to that degree? Jason thought. All his boyfriends either moved on or became just regular friends.
How did this card wind up coming to him? He flipped over the envelope. It was his address, but the name was pretty much illegible. All he could make out were the first four letters of the last name: P-r-e-s. Ben—Mr. Haggerty must have used one of those roller-ball pens. The ink could smear at times, especially if it got wet. And there was no return address. The person who sorted the mail could have thought it was for him.
As for the address, maybe one of the numbers was transposed, or maybe it should have been East Walker Run, instead of East Walker Bend, which was his street.
Slightly under the most recent postmark was one that was three months old. Poor old guy, Jason thought again. He’d been waiting all this time. Well, the least I can do is let him know the woman who left him isn’t ignoring him. She just hadn’t gotten his card.
Jason trotted down to the lower level of his house, where a spare bedroom was actually his study. The desk took up a corner of the room, and he sat down in front of it and pulled out the right-hand drawer. He kept a variety of greeting cards in there and had one all picked out for his sister for Extraterrestrial Abduction Day—he’d have to get that in the mail today if he wanted her to receive it by the twentieth. He grinned as he looked through the cards. It had been a tossup between that and National Clam on the Half Shell Day for March 31, but he knew Jen would get a bigger kick out of the aliens.
Now, what kind of card to choose for Mr. Haggerty? On the one hand, Jason’s parents had raised him to be respectful of his elders, and given that, Mr. Haggerty deserved something a little more serious. On the other hand, he needed something to raise his spirits. On the third hand—
“Argh! I’m making myself crazy!”
Eventually, Jason decided to go with a conservative “Thinking of you” card that happened to have four basset hound puppies in a Radio Flyer wagon. Then he sat there, tapping his pen against his front teeth, trying to come up with something that made sense.
After a while, he began writing.
Dear Mr. Haggerty,
This afternoon, the card you sent to the woman you’re missing so much arrived in my mailbox. I don’t know how that happened—
Well, he was pretty sure he did, but he was too polite to tell the old guy he might be losing it.
—but there you have it.
I’m writing to let you know this so you won’t think your sweetheart is deliberately ignoring you.
He read it over a few times, but that seemed to encompass everything he wanted to say.
A sudden thought occurred to him, and he added a PS. I think the card was really sweet….
No, he’d better not say that; it would come across as too gay, and straight men tended to get weirded out by stuff like that. He got the whiteout, and once he’d covered the offending word, he wrote …nice, and I’m sure your lady will think so too. Basset hounds are the best, aren’t they? My mom raises them, and one day she’s promised me one of the puppies. Anyway, I’m returning the card to you so you can send it to your lady again. I hope you won’t be offended if I tell you I think she was wrong not to have contacted you. I also hope she’ll come back to you. Oh, and I apologize for reading the card. I thought it was from my sister, who lives in Greenedale too. She’s the world’s biggest smart aleck, and before I realized it wasn’t, I was in the middle of it.
Okay, he really needed to stop now. He’d been about to wish him a happy Submarine Day. If he did something like that, the old guy was going to think he was dealing with a total nut job.
He scrawled Jason after the last word, and then rummaged around for an envelope large enough to hold both cards. It would be a good thing to get it in the mail as soon as possible. He addressed the envelope and slid the cards into it, put six stamps on the upper corner to be on the safe side, and finally, sealed it. Gathering up Jen’s card as well, he jogged up the stairs, grabbed his jacket, and headed out, intending to walk down to the post office, rather than drive.
It was only after he dropped the cards into the mailbox that it occurred to him that the woman might have already returned to Mr. Haggerty. After all, it was six months now. Or maybe he’d sent her another card.
Damn, I wish there was a way for me to find out. I’ve got his address…. No, that wouldn’t be cool.
But he had the feeling he would continue to wonder about Ben Haggerty and his sweetheart for a long time to come.COLLAPSE
I got the idea for this story when we received a Christmas card one year and neither of us could figure who had sent it. So I thought suppose someone got a card in the mail, didn't know who it was from, but decided to answer it. And from there, the premise bloomed. 🙂