The Yule Logbyartisticbiguy©
I sighed as I saw the signs for Morrisville. My home town, the place I had struggled to escape over fifteen years ago; now I was coming back with my head hung low and my tail between my legs. It was humbling and humiliating. I had left when I was eighteen and never looked back. I wanted a career, I wanted a life, and I wanted love. I'd gotten the career, I'd had a life, and I thought I'd had love. I'd been wrong.
My company started the cut backs at the beginning of the year. They hit different departments, pruning the dead wood and scaling back over the course of the year. I had thought I was secure; I'd thought I was invaluable; I thought wrong. My loyalty had been appreciated and I was most regretfully given the boot, but the boot came nonetheless. At least they'd given me a good severance package and my skills were in demand.
I came home near the beginning of August and told Steven that we would have to economize till I could secure a new job. Steven had not been pleased. His displeasure only increased as the weeks passed and I was unable to find a job. Economics was not one of Steven's strong points. He loved money; he loved spending money; and up until I'd lost my job I'd been able to keep his habits well supported.
I hadn't sat on my ass waiting for a job to fall in my lap. I went to more than a few interviews, most I was well over qualified for, but none of them panned out. I came home from my latest interview in the middle of October to find Steven's things gone. His things weren't all that was missing. Anything that had been jointly purchased, the entertainment systems, electronics, some art, and such were also gone. By the time I'd gotten over the shock of having the man I'd lived with and loved just leave me without a word after three years together, I wasn't surprised to find our joint accounts completely emptied. Steven had obviously decided that his meal ticket had run out and he'd left with the last plate of food for a new buffet. I at least had enough common sense to have our joint credit cards cancelled before I broke down.
I spent nearly a week in a complete funk. With most of my cash gone, and half of what I'd owned taken, I really didn't have many options. With a sense of defeat, I'd called my mother and asked if I could come home. I don't know about other thirty-five year-old ex-professionals, but by the time I'd packed up my life into a U-haul trailer and started on my way out of metropolitan life in New York to return to the hill country of Pennsylvania, my self worth was in the crapper. I was the eldest son, and the one who'd gone the farthest in my chosen field. I'd been on top of the world. Now all I had was my long-term investments, my 401k and an SUV with a trailer full of my worldly possessions.
I looked at the buildings along Main Street as I pulled into town. I couldn't face the house, not immediately. I pulled into a parking spot and decided to go for a walk. The town had changed a lot since I was a kid. They were doing a major revitalization of the downtown and it was really looking good. I grinned as I saw a sign of civilization calling out to me: Starbucks. Yes, they are everywhere.
I went inside and closed my eyes, letting the aroma waft over me as I tried to imagine myself back in the business district and getting my mid-morning cup of life. Even the heaven of the familiar coffee smell couldn't wash away the fact that I was back in a small town with no future, and having to sponge off my mother to get back on my feet. My shoulders slumped a little as I opened my eyes and went to the counter.
I was looking up at the options when I heard my name being said by a deep, resonant voice. "Hey, Kevin, what can I get you?"
I snapped my attention to the man who'd just come out of the back. He was tall, dark blond, athletic build, wearing a Starbucks long-sleeve shirt that hugged his body in very pleasant ways. I shook those thoughts out of my head; my dick had messed up my life enough, I didn't need to have it do it to me again. "Umm, a cinnamon-vanilla latte?"
He smiled, "Sure," and turned to make my order.
I studied his back. I had no idea who he was. He obviously knew who I was. Other than swinging by for the obligatory Thanksgiving family gatherings and Christmas, I didn't spend time in the hometown. Who the fuck would want to; no bars, no clubs, closest mall was an hour away, and cell phones were only now becoming a dependable thing. He had my latte ready in short order.
"You wouldn't want a sandwich or something with that, would you? Lunch crowd will be in soon."
I nodded and pointed to the turkey-croissant. I couldn't place him, but there was something familiar about him. He must have noticed my perplexed expression because he started to laugh.
"Sorry, I forgot that you haven't been back in years." He stuck out his hand. "Jesse Carlson."
I blinked. Jesse had been one of those "friends of a friend" guys you hang with by default on Friday or Saturday nights. Not that anyone ever did anything in Morrisville; the most that ever happened was guys snagging one of their father's bottles of jack and heading out to the fields to tip cows. Woo Hoo, just my idea of fun. We'd never really known each other in high school, he'd been into sports and I'd been on the debate team and in band. I played sax, if you must know, and still do; Steven had at least left me my sax. I shook his hand, forcing myself to be pleased to be recognized. In truth, I was embarrassed. "Hey, Jesse." I tried to make pleasant conversation; it was only polite. "How'd you recognize me so quick?"
For a moment I could have sworn he looked embarrassed, but he shrugged it off quick. "You're the 'guy who went places' out of our class, bud. Harvard, big success in the corporate world, the local rag keeps track of all the 'kids who did good'."
I felt like crawling under a rock. Yeah, big success I was. I'd done great. I mustered a smile, paid for my food, and took my drink to a table to brood. After a few minutes, Jesse came over with my sandwich. "You forgot this."
"Thanks." I couldn't even muster the smile. Home wasn't more than two miles away, and I couldn't bring myself to go any further. It was the ultimate humiliation. I'd always scoffed at the guys who'd lived with their parents after graduation; they were losers. I'd paid my own way, through scholarships, grants and hard work, and had gotten the hell out. Now I was one of the losers; it was a bitter pill to swallow.
The lunch crowd came and went. I didn't even notice that Jesse replaced my latte a couple times and cleared away my plate as I sat at the window watching the afternoon drag by. Morrisville wasn't as dead as I remembered it. The lunch crowd had been pretty good and the streets, though not bustling, weren't empty. I realized I wasn't alone when I saw Jesse's reflection in the darkening glass of the window. I blinked at him as he drank his coffee.
"Mind if I ask you a question?" He sipped from his cup, looking at me with the soft concern that you get from barbers, or bartenders. It was the "you can tell me, I won't judge you" face.
I shrugged. "Nah, go ahead."
"Why do you look like someone shot your dog?"
I shrugged. "Lost my job; lost my lover; lost my money. Pretty much feeling lost."
He nodded, looking out at the street. "Can't face the Mom yet, huh?"
I was shocked. I didn't think I was that transparent. I hung my head, not willing to look at him. "Only losers live at home with their parents, Jesse."
He made a non-committal noise. "Not always, but I know what you mean."
I looked around. "This is your place isn't it?"
"Yep, how'd you guess?"
I grinned. "Because you have two employees who are doing cleaning and such, but you're sitting here, talking to a customer, without any concern about getting on the boss's nerves."
He smiled. "Dad helped me start the franchise a few years ago."
"That's cool." I looked around the shop, and really took it in. It was a fairly large place, larger than the average Starbucks. It had a separate meeting room area and what looked like a small stage area at the other end. "I wouldn't have thought Morrisville could support a Starbucks."
Jesse laughed. "You really have no clue what's been going on since you left have you?"
I blushed. In my mind, there was no reason to think about Morrisville. It was part of my closeted, miserable past. I'd hated the place. I hated living in a small house, sharing my bedroom with my brother and wearing clothes from thrift shops and second hand stores. I looked back out the window. "Yeah, I'm pretty clueless."
Jesse smiled at me. I could see it in the glass. It was a soft, gentle smile that just seemed to radiate calm acceptance. "You should get home, Kevin. If you want, I can show you around tomorrow after the lunch crowd. That way you won't get lost on your first day back."
I grinned. "It's grown so much I need a guide?"
Laughing, he finished his coffee and stood up. "Not really, but I know the recent histories; so think of it as a 'this is your town' recap."
"Ok, you win. Mom never could make a decent cup of coffee anyway." I stood up and put out my hand. "Thanks, Jesse."
He met my hand with a firm shake and smiled. "My pleasure."
Fortified with coffee and the knowledge that there was one friendly face in Morrisville, I got back in the Acura and finished my journey to the house. Mom came out, smiling and drying her hands as I pulled into the driveway. "Kevin, I was getting worried." Kissing me on the cheek, she pulled back to shake her head as she looked me over. "You're too thin and you look tired. What has Steven been feeding you?"
I hadn't actually told Mom that he'd left. I tried to face it with defiance and strength, but my voice died when I tried to say it and I started to cry. Mom, like she always did, just bundled me into the house and had hot chocolate and cookies in my hands before the tears could hit the ground. She listened quietly as I told her the whole story. She'd been the only person in Morrisville who'd known I was gay. She'd just sat down with me one day during my senior year and point blank asked me. The only person I could never lie to was Mom. She'd been my hero growing up, and the last thing I'd ever wanted to do was be a disappointment. She'd just smiled and told me that she loved me no matter what gender I preferred.
Dad had died shortly after Katie, my youngest sister, had been born. I'd been twelve. Mom had done the best she could, worked two jobs, and had always managed to be at every concert or game or scholastic event her children had been in. What we'd lacked in material things, Mom had always tried to replace with love. I should have paid more attention to that. I'd been so caught up in my own conflicts and dramas that I'd missed the fact that she'd kept our home as a refuge.
Mom put me back in my old room. It felt strange to sleep in that room without Jack in the other bed. Still, I slept better than I had in weeks. I had no idea what I would do, but I wasn't going to be a drain on Mom. Coming home to recover and rebuild was one thing, becoming a dependant was quite another.
I spent the morning moving most of my things either into the storage shed or down into the basement. Even though it was chilly, being late October in northern Pennsylvania, I still worked up a good sweat by lunch. I caught a quick shower, dropped the trailer off at the local U-haul place, and got to Jesse's around one. They had a good flow of people until around two pm, and then he was able to get out from behind the counter. He grabbed his coat and carried out two venti cups.
I nodded, taking the cup. "Yep; I've got to pay you for this."
He waved away the comment. "My treat. Owners can do shit like that." He grinned and pushed open the door. "Ready?"
"Lead on MacDuff." He looked at me, clueless, and I just laughed and followed him out.
Though I was impressed at how much Morrisville had grown, I wasn't nearly as impressed as I was with Jesse's pride in the place. He just radiated love for the town. He told me all about the struggles to revitalize the downtown, how they had torn down the old industrial park and made space for the new Community College campus, and the attempts to bring awareness of the town to others through art festivals and events.
We made it back to the shop around six, feet a bit achy but smiling in spite of ourselves. It had been a great day. One of Jesse's employees came up when we got out of our coats.
"Mr. Carlson?" She was maybe nineteen, pretty, and had a pleasant smile. "Will we be hosting the usual jam session on Friday? A few people called while you were out and I wasn't sure."
Jesse grinned. "I don't see why not. Tell them that costumes are optional but encouraged."
Her smile lit her face. "Way, cool. Us too?"
He laughed. "Sure, but nothing that will dip into the food or cause anyone to catch on the handles or counters."
"Ok, no drapy sleeves or Lady Godiva hair, gotcha." She practically danced back to the counter area to conspire with the other workers about costumes. God, would I want to be that young again? Probably not, but it was tempting.
"Damn, that means I'll have to wear something or the kids are going to drive me nuts." Friday was Halloween.
I laughed. "What happens Friday nights?"
"Music Jam and Poetry night. It gives the college kids and locals someplace to show off their talents, and is a draw for an otherwise slow evening." He grinned. "You don't still play sax do you?"
He had me surprised again. I'd been in Jazz band, which was a relatively small offshoot of main band. It kept me wondering how much he really remembered about High School. Of course, I'd tried to forget most of it so the whole thing baffled me. "Yeah, actually I do." It was the one "art" I ever bothered with. It was impractical and foolish, but I still loved playing the damn thing. Steven had hated it. I suppose that should have been my first sign that he really wasn't the best choice in lovers.
"Cool. It'd be great if you'd come down. We go seven to nine, or ten on heavy nights, and we don't have anyone playing sax. "
I rolled my eyes. "Like anyone would want to hear an out of practice sax player screeching through a blues number."
Jesse laughed. "I would. It would be a nice change of pace from country guitar."
I shuddered. "Oh, that really makes me just pant with anticipation."
I narrowed my eyes. "You're going to make this an ego thing, aren't you?"
"Damn straight." He headed back for the counter. "I don't think you have the guts to come here, in costume, and jam with us uncultured country folk." Bastard. If I hadn't known any better, I'd have thought he knew me too well. There was no way I was going to let that one slide.
I spent the rest of the week getting settled into Mom's house, getting my feet on the ground and contacting headhunters. I also agonized over what I was going to wear Friday night. Leave it to a gay man to fret over clothing for a party when his life is in the crapper. I should have been a drag queen then at least the drama would have made sense. I went through my club clothes and shit that I'd accumulated since college. If you can't make at least a dozen costumes from a gay man's wardrobe, you have to turn in your Fag-Club Card. The hardest part was resisting the impulse just to go out and buy new stuff. When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping; but that wasn't an option.
I looked at myself in the mirror as I adjusted my vest. The only thing I had had to buy was some dark tan foundation and some setting powder. Othello didn't have to be -black-, dark Arabic or Mediterranean would do. I'd done my face, ears, neck and chest. I got into costumes. Hell, I'd dyed my hair and goatee from my natural medium brown to black. Can you say "male-drag"? I'd even conned Mom out of a pair of her larger Avon hoops. When I got flush again, I'd have to get her some real jewelry, the fake shit had to go. It wasn't perfect, but it was the best I could do on short notice. Burgundy satin swashbuckler's shirt, black tights, black boots, black velvet vest, gloves… gold jewelry and my sax. I looked like a fucking idiot, but I looked like a hot, great assed, stylish idiot. It would do.
I kissed Mom goodnight between bouts of trick-or-treaters. She rolled her eyes at me, but they sparkled with mirth. "You can't do anything simple, can you?"
I'd become so much more comfortable with my sexuality since I'd left home. The few times I'd gotten Mom out to New York, she'd had a blast when I showed her the "night life" of the city. For a down home, small town girl, Mom was cool. I put my hands on my hips, struck a pose and did my best diva imitation. "What, don't you think I look fabulous?" I dragged out fabulous into a twenty-syllable word in a drag-queen voice that made Mom laugh.
"Yes dear, you'll knock them dead."
"Thanks Mom." I was feeling a little self-conscious as I stepped out of the house. In the city, I'd have been out and flaming with the rest of the girls, but this was Hicksville, and flaming wasn't really what I wanted to do. I looked back. "I don't look like a fag, do I?"
"No dear, you look dashing. I'm sure you'll break a few hearts, especially if you do even half as well with the sax as you did practicing last night." She smiled at me lovingly and made a shooing motion as more kids came up the walk. "Get going; you're blocking the door."
I laughed, bounded past the ghost and witch that were coming up the steps, and got an appreciative second glance from their teen aged escort. Ok, maybe the tights did look good. I got downtown by half-past seven. I was surprised at the number of people in Starbucks. I'd had to park a ways down the street, and walked briskly to the warmth of the store. I may have looked "fabulous", but tights and satin just didn't make good late fall clothing for Pennsylvania. I got inside, brushing past a couple of non-costumed javaholics who had made their last run for the night, and looked for a place to set my sax. I decided not to bring the case; it'd have ruined the look of the costume. Was it practical? No. Did it make sense to my ego involved self image? Hell, yeah.
I found a spot where I could warm up when I realized that I was drawing more than a few looks. I wasn't certain if they were favorable or not. I think it is what an alien would feel if he were to walk into a place. Maybe a third of the people there were in costume, and other than Jesse's employees, none of them had tried nearly as hard as I had to do it well. Most of the people in the place were college aged. There were a few older people, and a few my age. At first I didn't see Jesse. My eyes finally found him; he had been sitting at the stage with a guitar.
Damn if he didn't look good. He was wearing tight, brown denim pants, a white poet's shirt that was loosely laced up the front and showed off a nice bit of dark-blond fur covering a distractingly well-defined chest. He had on a pair of leather moccasin boots and looked like one of the folksy singers from the sixties or early seventies. He even had a leather band with feathers tied around his thigh. All in all, he looked incredible for a thirty-something ex-jock turned coffee shop owner. Who was I kidding; he looked hot enough to melt the makeup off a drag queen. I pushed that thought out of my head and steered it clear of my groin. The last thing I needed was to have a rebound crush on a straight man.
His eyes met mine and he smiled. Getting up he motioning another guy to take his turn on the stage, and came over to my table. He had the most satisfied grin on his face. "Had to prove me wrong, huh?"
I set my jaw and looked defiant. "City boys can take down country boys any day of the week, Mr. Carlson."