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A Place Like Home

M/M, Holiday Romance, Friends-to-Lovers
[20 Pages / 5,300 Words]


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Alan only agreed to work on Christmas Eve because he spends the holiday alone. He's no scrooge—if anything he's a hopeless romantic—it's just that his best friend's complicated life means celebrating in January, when Jamie can visit. But instead of an empty house, Alan finds a surprise waiting for him: Jamie has arrived ahead of schedule, daughter in tow. And for the first time in years, Alan's delighted to be home for the holidays.


Excerpt

"Have you eaten dinner yet?" Jamie's question carries such sudden, restless purpose that for a moment Alan just blinks at him across the kitchen. An undercurrent of unreadable emotion flashes in the deep brown of Jamie's eyes as he straightens up from the door jamb.

"I hope you didn't wait for me," Alan protests. No, he hasn't eaten dinner, unless he counts the granola bar and energy drink he had at his desk. "It's late, and you've been traveling all day."

"Oh! No. We ate. Picked up sandwiches on our way in from the airport. Yours is in the fridge." Again, some nervous compulsion seems to tug Jamie into motion, and he crosses in front of Alan to reach the refrigerator.

"Jamie, I'm fine." Alan can't guess what this burst of energy heralds, but every instinct aches to soothe his friend. He sets the half-finished mug of cider down on the counter and takes a cautious step forward.

The fridge door squeaks, and Jamie folds practically inside as he searches for the promised sandwich amid a forest of greens and fresh fruit. "I swear, it's in here somewhere. How do you use this much produce before it goes bad, anyway? You live alone. Oh, we got you a lemonade too, assuming I can find it. We—"

"Jamie," Alan interrupts more firmly. Exasperation and concern mingle with fondness in his voice. "The sandwich can wait."

Despite this admonition, Jamie keeps fussing with a head of broccoli that somehow lost its place in the lineup—refusing to fit back on the shelf no matter how Jamie adjusts the angle—so Alan wraps a gentle but insistent grip just above Jamie's elbow and tugs until he turns around. Alan's fingers, paler than ever thanks to the lack of sunlight, look stark against the dark green stripes of the sweater.

Up close, it's dramatically evident just how tall Alan stands next to his guest. He continues to hold Jamie's arm in a loose grip, plucking up the head of broccoli with his free hand and setting it on the counter as the fridge squeaks shut. Jamie meets his eyes at last, but the unsteady intensity sends a confused shiver along Alan's spine.

"Now," Alan says. "Are you going to keep hiding in my fridge, or will you tell me what's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong." The answer comes out too quick, and a little too sharp, but it also shines with unexpected sincerity. "I just don't… This… It's really, really good to see you, is all."

"And you're behaving strangely because…?" Alan wonders, as soon as he asks the question, if he's being too blunt. Jamie's oddness tonight isn't that strange, and even if it were, why should Alan call him out? There are dozens of completely innocuous reasons he might be off-kilter, especially after a day of airports and a long drive.

But the way Jamie's eyes widen, startled and a little bit guilty, stops Alan from trying to take the words back.

"Jamie." Alan drops his voice to something soft and hopefully reassuring. His hands, nearly of their own volition, curl around Jamie's upper arms as though to steady him. What Alan really wants to do is frame Jamie's face between his hands, and lean forward to bump their foreheads together—but he settles for this, and for adding a quiet, "Whatever it is, I won't be upset."

Foolish, perhaps, to make promises about emotions. But Alan knows Jamie with his entire heart. There isn't a malicious bone in this man's body, and Alan can't imagine taking offense at whatever's got him worked up.

At least Jamie is meeting Alan's gaze now. No flinching, no retreat—just a long, piercing study of Alan's face—as though he's trying silently to unravel every secret in Alan's soul.

Alan only has one secret he's kept from his best friend. And for the first time, he finds himself confusingly unconcerned about Jamie learning the truth.

"Talk to me," Alan nudges, low and cautious.

Jamie gives a visible swallow, then reaches up to curl a tentative hand along Alan's cheek. There must be a scrape of stubble to meet the touch—Alan didn't shave this morning before his grudging jaunt to the office, and it's been hours since then. But Jamie's touch is gentle, and when his thumb traces Alan's cheek, it's all Alan can do not to gasp.

"I missed you," Jamie admits, in a tone that carries far more weight than usual.

Alan's heart beats faster, even as he wills himself calm. Hope is a ridiculous and risky thing to harbor. There's no reason to read deeper meaning into short, simple words he's heard dozens of times before.

"I've missed you too." Alan's own voice comes out a rumble of gravel. He always misses Jamie. Grateful as he is for the steady stream of phone calls, emails, text messages, video chats that keep them connected… Those aren't the same. He's always greedy for Jamie, and the long stretches apart are more torturous than he ever intends to admit.

The look Jamie is giving him makes Alan wonder, for the very first time, if the feeling might be mutual.

"Do you…?" Jamie starts, but lets the question taper off incomplete. He looks almost feverish, his eyes bright, the deep brown of his skin flushed with visible warmth. New resolve flashes behind the uncertain expression, turning it determined and sharp.

Alan covers Jamie's hand with his own, letting expectant stillness fall over him. He watches Jamie draw a slow inhale and square his shoulders. A moment later, Jamie raises his other hand, framing Alan's face between his palms.

Another pause. Another frantic heartbeat. Another stillness through which Alan half fears the ember burning in his chest will explode into a supernova, and the resulting conflagration will burn him to ash.

Then Jamie leans up and in, pulling Alan toward him with intent that even the most stubborn cynic couldn't deny—moving slowly enough to allow retreat several times over, never mind how readily Alan is allowing himself to be moved.


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A Place Like Home
Cover design by Yolande Kleinn
ISBN 978-1-946316-22-6
 
 
 
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