‘Tis the Season

by Alex Jane

'Tis the Season - Alex Jane
Editions:Kindle - First Edition: $ 2.49
Pages: 87
Paperback - Second Edition: $ 4.99
ISBN: 978-1548066178
Size: 5.20 x 7.80 in
Pages: 111

Aaron has spent the past ten months alone. When he meets a sad, yet strangely familiar man on a cold Halloween night, he impulsively invites him home. But the intimate connection they share lasts only until morning. Aaron wakes up alone—wracked with guilt and devastated to have lost his chance.

Or so he thinks.

Thanksgiving brings Aaron another shot at happiness, but letting go of an old love and accepting a new one isn’t as easy as everyone keeps telling him. And by the time Christmas Eve rolls around, it becomes clear that Aaron’s not the only one struggling to let himself love again.

Christmas miracles are all well and good, but it’s going to take more than the Holiday Spirit for Aaron to get his happy ever after.

A story of grief, sadness, and letting it go; and finding love when you least expect it.

Published:
Publisher: Independently Published
Editors:
Cover Artists:
Genres:
Tags:
Pairings: MM
Heat Level: 4
Romantic Content: 5
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: 26-35
Protagonist 2 Age: 26-35
Tropes: Bad Breakup, Hurt / Comfort, Love Can Heal / Redemption, One Night Stand, Reunited and it Feels So Good, Second Chances
Word Count: 26000
Setting: New York City
Languages Available: English
Excerpt:

October

The wind whipped around the corner as Aaron stepped out onto the street—the music from the jukebox abruptly muffled as the door slammed shut behind him. He was whiskey-warm on the inside but the shocking blast of cold air against his exposed skin had him pulling the collar of his jacket up against the night.

It was cold for October. Cold enough that Aaron imagined he could feel the promise of snow in the breeze as it flowed down the street, casually blowing the golden leaves from the trees to scatter over the sidewalk, piling them in the corners of buildings or to catch in railings, before finally dying a water-sodden death in the gutter.

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Realistically, the first snowfall was a long way off. It wasn't even November yet—not for a few more hours anyway—but still, the thought that the hard, dirty concrete glaring up at him would soon be blanketed safe beneath a soft layer of white made Aaron genuinely smile for the first time that day. Before long he would be kicking through drifts of snow not leaves; his boots crunching deep shoe prints in his wake, rather than leaving behind the flat, empty sound of his solitary steps hitting the naked sidewalk.

The thought of winter and all its implications sent a thrill of warmth through him. Or maybe that was the last shot of whiskey kicking in. The feeling lingered long enough that, even when Aaron's mind drifted to the fact John would have laughed at him for thinking such a thing, the memory didn't chill him immediately.

John had hated the snow. Or rather he made a show of hating it. He had bitched and moaned when the first flakes began to fall. But Aaron had often caught John smiling out of the corner of his eye when Aaron had stomped through a snow bank, or when Aaron had spent an hour making a village of mini snowmen to line the low wall of one of their flower borders, leaving his gloves sodden and face flushed from the cold. John's attitude towards winter had never softened but neither had his delight at seeing Aaron happy. At least, that was the way Aaron had always taken it. John stood steadfastly by his grumpy sentiment and rejoiced when the thaw began. For him, the spring had meant no more chains on his tires or driving around wrecks on the highway, or scraping frost from his windshield every morning.

Aaron paused for a moment, squeezing his eyes tightly shut against the memories. They never really stopped—flashes of a life that seemed more like a dream now—but their intrusions were getting fewer and farther between. He wasn't sure whether it was a good thing or not. His therapist seemed to think it was progress but Aaron had lost faith in her after she'd suggested maybe he should at least think about the possibility of another relationship. He'd cut enough people out of his life for suggesting that very thing, or even that maybe what happened had been for the best and maybe he should be getting over it by now. The memories were all he had left, and as torturous as they made his life, he wasn't ready to let go of them yet.

Cackling laughter caught his attention and he opened his eyes to see a rowdy herd of flapping, white specters racing down the other side of the street. One of them accidentally stood on the sheet of the ghost in front, causing his friend to be abruptly uncloaked. The shattered illusion—as much as it was—set the rest of the frat boys off into hysterical laughter while their compatriot tried to keep up and redress himself in the makeshift costume.

Aaron shook his head and turned away to make the journey home, an air of resignation in his step. There was only so long a person could wander the streets, even on Halloween. But he dreaded returning to his empty apartment where he'd have no choice but to face his equally empty heart.

It was hardly dark, despite the late hour, given the seemingly endless parade of jack-o’-lanterns, glowing skeletons, and strings of lights in all manner of ghoulish shapes. Even without the festive lighting, New York was lit up like someone was having a party all year round so Aaron always found some enjoyment walking back to his apartment late at night. It had been almost fifteen years since he had moved to the city but he still couldn't quite bring himself to think of the place as "home."

John had made the house they had shared a home, but now it was hard to think of the city that way without him. Yet Aaron had no reason to leave. Before he moved to his new apartment, he’d toyed with the idea of moving back to Duluth for all of five minutes before he realized he'd be an idiot. His sister still lived there but they'd never been close. Partly because of their age difference but mainly because Aaron's “lifestyle choices” had driven a wedge between him and his parents. They'd never gotten past it, and she'd taken their side. After their funerals, he and his sister kept in touch—birthday and Christmas cards, the odd postcard—but that was all. He never blamed her but he didn't miss her either.

Aaron was surprised to find himself humming a little as he crossed the pedestrian bridge back across the river to his apartment block; the song that had been playing in the bar as he was leaving. The bar was a dive but it was in a neighborhood his friends—the few that had stuck around anyway—were unlikely to venture into so he didn't have to worry about bumping into any of them there. He'd stumbled across the place when he'd been at his worst, literally falling through the door at eleven in the morning. No one batted an eye if he showed up still steaming from the night before to sit sullenly in a dark corner for the bulk of the day.

Even after he'd cleaned himself up and returned to full-time employment, he'd drop by the bar for a drink in the evening, often staying late on the weekends with no classes to teach the next day. He got to play some pool, shoot the shit with the regulars, and flirt a little with the barman who had a wife and two kids but didn't seem to mind. No one gave him a sympathetic smile or lay a consoling pat on his shoulder. No one looked at him with concern or pity. No one told him things would get better, hang in there, or maybe it was time for him to start getting out and meeting people. He was welcomed but anonymous, which was just what he needed. His friends loved him, he knew it, but there was only so long he could take their platitudes and their growing frustration that he couldn't move on. There was a limit on sympathy it seemed.

He was almost at the far end of the bridge, still humming, absorbed with trying to place the tune—it was reminding him of a commercial but he couldn't think which one. Soap, maybe?—when he saw a shape move in the shadows on the bridge. For a second, he thought he had imagined it as the few other people using the walkway didn't seem to notice, but then the movement came again.

Under normal circumstances, he would have walked on by—keeping his head down like anyone else who didn't want to get involved—but for some reason, he was struck with anxiety rather than fear. Taking a more brazen look, he could see the shape of a person, darker within the dark shadow. He was somewhat confused as there was fencing there to stop people from getting too close to the edge but the shape was on the other side, nestled into one of the concrete pillars where the heavy metal lines that stretched up to suspend the bridge were anchored to the walkway.

Aaron stepped forward cautiously, squinting into the darkness, satisfied it was a man sat on the edge not some demon or zombie; just a young guy hunched over, looking down at the water below, his hands gripping the lip of the parapet as his legs dangled over the edge. From what Aaron could see of the face beneath the raised hood of his sweatshirt, illuminated by the lights reflecting off the water, the guy looked eerily calm. The second-hand light made him look a little pale, but his mouth was set in a position of such quiet determination. When his weight seemed to shift forward, Aaron's heart leaped into his mouth. Panicking, he stumbled towards the rail of the bridge, digging into the pocket of his coat and did the first thing that popped into his head.

"Nuts!"

The shadow-shape jumped and pushed himself back from the edge to sit heavily on his tailbone with a sharp exhale of breath as Aaron lunged forward with his hand outstretched. The guy's head whipped around, causing his hood to fall away revealing a shock of auburn hair, and gray eyes that glared at Aaron. Aaron who was standing there, one hand gripping the security fence while the other held out a crumpled packet of pecans.

For a moment, Aaron thought he saw a fleeting look of recognition in the man's eyes, but he figured it must have been a trick of the light when only disbelief and confusion remained on the man's scowling face. "What?"

Aaron jiggled the packet in his hand, making the nuts jump and rustle. "Would you like some nuts?" He swallowed hard, knowing full well he looked like an idiot or a crazy person. Or both. He would definitely blame the whiskey in the morning.

The guy tilted his head. He seemed more astonished that Aaron was speaking to him than at anything Aaron was actually saying. Looking Aaron up and down, he stated gruffly, "Are you fucking kidding me?"

Aaron's arm wavered in the air. As he brought his hand down, the motion stuttering and unsure, he sighed. Hastily rolling the packet up and stuffing it roughly into his pocket, he nodded, keeping his eyes on his task, muttering, "No. No, of course. Stupid idea. Sorry."

He expected to see anger on the man's face when he raised his head, but the man looked sympathetic, guilty even. Something about the softness in the guy's gray eyes shot a bolt of courage into Aaron. The eyes or that last whiskey, Aaron never could decide which. "There's a diner 'round the corner. I could do with a coffee. You wanna join me?"

The guy narrowed his eyes and leaned forward, asking in the most incredulous tone, "Who are you?"

"You can call me Clarence," Aaron said, feeling immediately foolish. He didn't mean to say it, the words just popped out, showing him up as the gigantic dork John had always accused him of being.

For a moment, Aaron thought maybe he should brace for a punch or attempt to break into a run, but then the guy's mouth slowly stretched out into a smile that seemed to take them both by surprise, and a short, shocked laugh escaped his lips. He shook his head, still half-laughing as he looked back out over the water. There was something painfully sad about him in that moment, seeing his shape broken into pieces behind the fence. But when he sighed, all the tension that had been in his body seemed spent.

He took a deep breath, needing more than a moment to make his decision, then sighed as he pulled one long leg after the other over the parapet. He shimmied along to a small gap in the fence partially hidden by some foliage, squeezed through and dropped down onto the pavement next to Aaron. "Well, Clarence, I can't really say no to that, now can I? Even though you're a little early."

The sad smile that flashed across the guy's face when Aaron got his first good look was really something. Something strangely familiar, actually. It made Aaron's breath catch in his throat for a second as the stranger brushed past him. Aaron was so stupefied by the moment, he ended up having to jog to catch up with the figure striding ahead.

COLLAPSE
Reviews:Roroblu'sMum on Amazon wrote:

This is a short, sweet and pretty much Mary Poppins tale - Practically Perfect In Every Way.

It's a tale of a couple of guys who've lost someone - one's not that long ago widowed and is still coming to terms with it, and the other has been dumped on, and dumped by his ex-cum-boss, who's rushed out to replace him with what seems to be a younger model.

There's the tiniest. tiniest connecting thing between them (not a connection, just something...) that makes the tale work and that provides just the right bit of angst. The tale is about moving on, about not wanting to let go of love and also about wanting to experience happiness again. It worked beautifully with the leads AJ created and I believed in them, in their HEA and that perhaps an angel called John was looking down on them.

Evelise on Sexy Erotic Xciting wrote:

A feel good emotional tale, 'Tis the Season by Alex Jane was a sure-fire winner. Barreling through the lives of Aaron and Dylan Ms. Jane broached the subject of love lost and the feelings of dread during what should be the most joyous time of the year.

Aaron lost his husband and waded through life- a man still attached to the spirit of the deceased. Dylan- on the brink of destruction, lost, after getting out of a bad relationship. What Aaron and Dylan found was common ground in despair and the strength in each other to forge forward.

Ms. Jane spun a tale taking this reader on an emotional roller coaster, hoping for holiday cheer and a miracle happy ending. ‘Tis the Season brought a smile and a tear and the knowledge that good things are around the corner when we open ourselves to the holiday spirit.


About the Author

After spending far too long creating stories in her head, Alex finally plucked up the courage to write them down and realized it was quite fun seeing them on the page after all.
Free from aspirations of literary greatness, Alex simply hopes to entertain by spinning a good yarn of love and life, wrapped up with a happy ending. Although, if her characters have to go through Hell to get there, she’s a-okay with that.
With only a dysfunctional taste in music and a one-eyed dog to otherwise fill her days, Alex writes and walks on the South Coast of England—even when her heart and spellcheck are in New York.