A Bookworm for Christmas: Gay Romance - Trina Solet - ebook
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When Gavin and Miles were boss and employee, they kept each other at arm's length. It's been a few years since then and things have changed. Gavin has a little boy, Benji, and he doesn't seem as standoffish any more. Benji makes for a big change in Gavin's life, and being a dad suits him perfectly.Will Miles finally get his chance with the man he has been longing for? 

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A Bookworm for Christmas (Gay Romance)

By Trina Solet

Copyright © 2016 by Trina Solet

All rights reserved.

No part of this publication may be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, locales or actual events is entirely coincidental.

All sexual activity takes place between persons eighteen years of age or older.

This novel contains material intended for mature readers.

Cover image is only for illustrative purposes. Any person depicted is a model.

A Bookworm for Christmas

Gay Romance

Trina Solet

Chapter 1

The sidewalks were crowded as Miles rushed to Vic's Diner. His breath fogged up in front of him. There was a serious nip in the air but no snow. It would be nice to see some snow around this time of year, but it wouldn't be fun to trudge through the sludge on the way to and from work. He only worked part time while he was in school and his shift was already over.

Turning a corner, Miles spotted the yellow Vic's Diner sign and rubbed his gloved hands. A guy who worked in the back office got a burger for lunch and triggered a craving. Now Miles had to have one of Vic's mushroom and swiss burgers.

He used to come to Vic's all the time when he worked at a bookstore nearby. Now it was a little out of his way but today he decided it was worth the walk. Pushing open the diner door, Miles breathed in the scent of good cooking and let it stoke his hunger even more.

The place was packed so he had to wait for a seat at the counter to open up. He wasn't the only one. A few other people were huddled just inside the door to keep out of the cold, but every time the door opened a gust of chilled air blasted them.

If he didn't crave that mushroom burger so bad, Miles would have given up and gone somewhere else. He scanned the booths though he had no chance of getting one of those. That's when he spotted a familiar face, and this familiar face was eating alone.

It was his old boss Gavin Fielding from the bookstore, or more like his young, handsome ex boss. Miles shouldn't have been surprised to see him. The bookstore was only a few blocks away. Going right over to his table, Miles was ready to ask if he could sit with him. That's when he noticed that Gavin wasn't eating alone after all.

"You're short. I didn't see you there," Miles told the little boy sitting across from Gavin. He was so startled to see the little boy that he didn't even say hello to the man he used to work for.

The boy, who was only four or five, gave Miles a fierce look. He wore glasses and had light brown hair. Miles could see his feet kicking under the table.

"Who's your short date, boss man?" Miles asked his former boss.

Gavin gave him a wry look then told him. "This is my son, Benji."

"Benji. Good name," Miles said to him, and the little boy looked pleased to hear it, but also cautious.

"The rude man is Miles. Say, 'hi, nice to meet you' to the rude man," Gavin said to his son.

"Nice to meet you," Benji said as instructed.

"I can't believe you have a kid," Miles said and sat down without being asked. He slid over in the booth until he was sitting right up against Gavin. Gavin moved himself and his phone over to the other end of the booth.

"Who invited you to join us?" Gavin grumbled though he had just made room for him.

Miles turned to him and grinned devilishly. "Just living up to that rude label you stuck on me. You wouldn't want me to go hungry, would you? Plus this way I free up a spot at the counter for someone else." Miles pointed to the cluster of people waiting for a seat to open up.

"I guess we can put up with you if it's for the greater good," Gavin said while his son went back to drawing in a yellow notepad.

It turned out that they had only just ordered. Miles put in his order as well. His burger and fries arrived only a little after Gavin's minestrone soup and Cesar salad and Benji's grilled cheese and tomato soup. Gavin reached over and took away his son's notepad to make him focus on his food.

"I don't remember this place being so crowded," Miles said as they ate. "I usually got takeout, but I never saw people waiting for a seat."

"They closed that sandwich place down the street," Gavin told him and nodded in the direction where the deli used to be.

"Sammy's Deli. Too bad. They had those great, big, spicy pickles," Miles said with a shake of his head.

Benji had his head down over his soup but he became more interested in what they were saying as soon as pickles were mentioned.

"Aha, a pickles fan," Miles said and pointed at him.

"He likes pickles," Benji said leaning over toward his dad. He said it almost like he was making the argument that if Miles liked pickles, he couldn't be all bad.

"I used to get sandwiches from the deli for me and your dad for lunch," Miles told the kid.

"And sometimes you even got my order right," Gavin complained.

Miles laughed. "Let me tell you, that was no accident. You always ordered either turkey or roast beef on rye. I wanted to mix things up."

"Did you work with my dad?" Benji asked.

"I used to. He was my boss."

Gavin felt compelled to elaborate on those simple facts. "Yes, but Miles here thought that the job was too boring, so he quit and left me shorthanded for Christmas that year."

"Hey, don't try this in the court of public opinion. I got a job at Turn, vintage vinyl as far as the eye could see, and they wanted me to start right away. Cut me some slack," Miles said in his own defense.

"I heard they closed," Gavin said, but he wasn't gloating about it.

"Yeah. Saddest day of my life."

"You are so young," Gavin told him.

"And you are such a dad," Miles shot back, but he meant it as a compliment.

"Yes, he is," Benji agreed. He leaned toward Miles, his eyes earnest behind his glasses. "He's my dad." He said it like he wanted there to be no confusion about that fact.

"Suits you perfectly," Miles said to Gavin then saw a waitress coming their way. He wasn't done with his burger yet, but he clapped his hands together and got ready to order dessert. He was getting Vic's fried apple pie. That was another thing he hadn't had since he used to work for Gavin. He missed out on a lot of goodies while not working for him. Not least of which was the opportunity to ogle his boss while getting cut down by his deep voice and his gorgeous blue eyes.

As Miles watched him out of the corner of his eye, Gavin ran his hand through his dark brown hair and sighed. "Now I have to get him dessert too," he said and allowed Benji to order a brownie.

"I guess I'm a bad influence. I feel terrible about that," Miles said and winked at Benji.

Seeing Benji grin at Miles, Gavin frowned. "That reminds me. Do the opposite of everything Miles does," he told his son.

Benji only looked confused.

"Oh come on. Do I deserve that?" Miles asked and gave Gavin a pitiful look.

"Sometimes," Gavin said, but the cagey look in his eyes said that he couldn't really get mad at him.

The desserts were set in front of them and Gavin got a cup of coffee.

"And where do you work now?" he asked while Miles and Benji ate dessert and peered at each other conspiratorially.

"At this mailing and packaging place. It's only a part time, seasonal thing, boxing up gifts, shipping them out. Someone was shipping an acoustic guitar today. I'll need something more permanent after New Year's. You hiring by any chance?" Miles asked.

"Not at the moment," Gavin said.

Miles eyed him again while trying not to be obvious about it. His ex boss was just as good-looking as he remembered, maybe more so. The man was stern, tall and lean with broad shoulders. With that combination of blue eyes and dark brown hair, he was irresistible to Miles.

When he worked for Gavin, Miles had fantasized so many times about him. It was hopeless of course. At the time, Miles had just turned eighteen and started college. Gavin was a serious guy in his late twenties and he treated Miles like he was a high school kid or something.

After they were done eating, they all got up to put their jackets on. As they waited at the register, Benji held onto the notepad he used for drawing and a few colored pencils while mittens hung from the sleeves of his jacket. Gavin paid for their lunch and Miles' too.

"Thanks. You didn't have to do that. I did invite myself," Miles told him.

"You said you would be out of a job soon, didn't you?" Gavin said, reminding Miles that under that severe exterior, he was a really nice guy.

"Just in time for Christmas," Miles said. "I want to have another job lined up before New Year's hopefully."

"I'll let you know if I hear of anything," Gavin told him as they headed for the exit together.

Gavin made sure his little boy was all bundled up then they stepped outside. As soon as they were out the door, they stopped short as Benji's glasses fogged up. Gavin took them off his face and wiped them then put the glasses back on Benji. The little boy blinked up at him and nodded. Looking from father to son, Miles had to smile. They were quite a pair, and he found that he didn't want to let them go off without him just yet.

"I'll walk with you," Miles offered.

"We're going to the optometrist to have Benji's glasses adjusted. He's kind of hard on them," Gavin told him.

"I can still walk with you. I was just going to go home now anyway," Miles said.

"No classes?" Gavin said.

"Not today."

"And I guess you're not too busy studying," Gavin said pointedly.

"I study plenty," Miles told him defensively.

As they walked down city streets, they saw lots of people with shopping bags, sometimes even carrying wrapped gifts. Benji looked at the wrapped packages eagerly. To Miles, they were just a reminder of all the shopping he still needed to do.

"Candysaurus!" Benji exclaimed on seeing the candy store across the street with its sign that featured a blue dinosaur.

"You just had dessert," Gavin reminded him. But the begging look on Benji's face didn't go away.

Miles wondered if Gavin had deliberately stayed on this side of the street so they wouldn't pass too close to the store. "What do they have that's so good?" Miles asked Benji.

As he should have expected, Benji said, "Everything."

"Right now they have these snowflake candies and he's obsessed with them," Gavin said.

"No, I'm not," Benji claimed plaintively.

"You know what obsessed means?" his father challenged him.

Benji wouldn't admit to anything. He just made a funny face.

"Trust me, you're obsessed," his dad decreed.

"I want to be obsessed too. What are these snowflake candies?" Miles asked.

"They're good," Benji said.

"What a description. My mouth is watering," Miles said.

"They're just sugar in the shape of a snowflake with coconut flakes dusted on top," Gavin said as if that wasn't a good  enough reason to love them.

"They have marshmallow snowmens too," Benji piped up.

"It's snowmen," Gavin told him.

"Sounds good. But I guess we both already had something sweet for lunch. We don't want to overdo it," Miles said to Benji. He didn't really want to be a bad influence on Gavin's kid. "Maybe some other time we can go to the Candysaurus and you can show me all the good stuff."

Benji agreed but Gavin looked at Miles skeptically. He probably thought it would be another year or two before they ran into each other again. Miles planned to make sure it would be sooner than that. Seeing Gavin again reminded him why he had to quit and also why he couldn't stay away any longer.

Chapter 2

Going about his day as usual, Gavin found that he had flashes of Miles, his smile in particular. It would pass. It wasn't like he was obsessed with him or anything. He was just a little distracted. That's why he almost missed what Benji was telling him as they walked from his kindergarten where Gavin had just picked him up.

"Guess what we did today," Benji was saying. "We made cards. I made you a card for Christmas, but it's a surprise. You can't see it."

"I promise to be surprised," Gavin told him and Benji smiled up at him.

Since Meredith was on duty at the store, instead of going straight back there, Gavin decided on a detour. "How would you like it if we visited Bruce and took him something for lunch?" Gavin asked Benji.

Bruce was the owner of Langford & Son Furniture and Benji's honorary uncle. He had a son, Marvin, who was two years older than Benji, but a good sport about playing with a "littler kid" as he liked to call him. Bruce's store was a little out of the way, but they could stop at Baker Man Deli and get hot sandwiches to take with them to the furniture store.

When they got to the deli and he saw they were getting only three sandwiches, Benji asked, "And for Marvin?"

"I don't think Marvin gets out of school until later."

Benji made a disappointed face but cheered up when Gavin bought a cup of small, crunchy pickles for him to munch on. The pickles made Gavin think of Miles again. He tried to dismiss him from his thoughts, but he wasn't very successful.

Having seen Miles so recently, Gavin found that he was too vivid in his thoughts – his unruly, light brown hair and golden brown eyes, his easy smile, the warmth that radiated from him. And he was older now, not freshly eighteen. There was no reason why Gavin couldn't dwell a little on how very attractive he was.

When they arrived, the furniture store seemed pretty quiet. A young couple was in the bedroom isle, frowning at prices, while two women were picking out a dining table with the help of one of the sales people. As he and Benji walked toward the back of the big store, Gavin noticed the familiar smell of the place. It was a mix of wood, upholstery, leather, furniture polish and floor cleaner.

"Hi, Uncle Bruce," Benji said as he ran through the store to Bruce's manager's desk in the back. The big man stood up from behind his desk and greeted Benji with a smile and a handshake. He waved Benji into one of the two chairs on the other side of his desk.

"Hi there, young man. Have a seat and let's do some business," he said.

Gavin gave Benji the bag with Bruce's sandwich and he handed it over.

"I see you didn't come empty handed. Nicely done," Bruce said as he opened the bag with his favorite, an eggplant parmigiana sandwich.

They all sat down at Bruce's desk to eat, and Gavin warned Benji not to make a mess. It was funny that they were eating at his desk when there were all those dining tables out there in the showroom. After he took a few bites of his sandwich, Bruce opened one of his desk drawers and brought out an elaborate robot, possibly a Transformer. He showed it to Benji.

"Check out what I got for Marvin. You think he'll like it?"

Benji's eyes went wide.

"That's a yes," Gavin said.

Benji confirmed it with a thumbs up and a big grin.

"Then I'll wrap it up and keep it a secret. You keep it a secret too," he instructed Benji, who nodded and pinched his mouth closed with his fingers.

"Open your mouth, please, so you can eat," Gavin told him.

After that, Benji made short work of his own breaded chicken sandwich, or as he called it the big chicken nugget sandwich. Done with the last of his food and all his pickles, Benji went to explore the store. He poked around all the alcoves set up to resemble furnished rooms, complete with fake windows and doors that led nowhere. For some reason, Benji had to try every one of those doors though none of them opened.

At least that kept him busy and gave Bruce and Gavin a chance to catch up as they ate more slowly. While they talked, Gavin just happened to mention running into Miles the other day and how they sort of had lunch with him. For no good reason Bruce latched onto this one insignificant event.

"Not bad. You had a little crush on him," Bruce said with a knowing grin.

"I did not. He was just a kid," Gavin told him.

"He was eighteen. I remember you made a point of telling me his age," Bruce said and pointed an accusing finger at him before taking a bite from what was left of his sandwich.

Gavin denied it though he didn't specifically remember what he said at the time. "I might have mentioned it in passing. That's all."

"You wanted to make sure I knew that he was legal so I wouldn't think you were a total perv. We hadn't known each other long back then, so you didn't want to make a bad impression. And you were so pissed off when he quit," Bruce said with an amused shake of his head.

"Because he quit with very little notice and right before Christmas," Gavin told him defensively.

"Aha. But you weren't that ranty and bitchy when that guy broke up with you. What was his name. Quentin?"

"Quinn, and the break up was mutual," Gavin said though he didn't know why Bruce was bringing up an ex boyfriend when they were talking about an ex employee. "And I wasn't bitchy."

"Let me ask you this, why do I even remember this guy Miles if he was just some nobody who worked at your store once upon a time?" Bruce asked with a raised eyebrow.

"You're asking me?"

"No. I'm telling you. You had a thing for him, and you couldn't hide that from someone as perceptive as me. So what's the deal? You gonna see him again?" Bruce asked.

"It was just a random run-in at a diner."

"You said you had lunch together. That's more than a run-in," Bruce reminded him.

"There were no other open tables," Gavin said exasperated that Bruce was using every little thing to build a case against him.

"So when are you seeing him again?" Bruce asked. Nothing Gavin said seemed to dissuade him.

"Never," Gavin replied flatly. They weren't likely to run into each other again, and Gavin wasn't about to go chasing after someone younger than him who wasn't even interested in him. Not that he was interested in Miles either.

But something strange did happen back then after Miles came to work for him. Gavin started to really like having him around. In fact he liked it more all the time, so that when Miles left, it was a vary painful shock.

Maybe that was because he had recently broken up with Quinn and he was lonely. That was also when he went on a blind date with Bruce, but they quickly decided that they should just be friends. With his big muscles and his confident grin, Bruce couldn't entice him, but his scruffy young employee stirred up all sorts of unwelcome, stray thoughts.

*

The day was chilly and damp with the threat of rain, but Miles had no right to complain about the weather. He shouldn't even be out. He was supposed to be doing some reading for a class, but he was too restless to concentrate. Going out for some fresh air, he found himself heading for Gavin's bookstore. His feet just took him that way.

As soon as he found himself standing in front of the familiar storefront, the old feelings came back to him. A mix of relief and excitement had flooded him whenever he stepped through the doors of the bookstore. He was happy to be working there. But he was even happier not to be working for his grandfather, listening to his putdowns and not hearing a word from his Mom and Dad to defend him. That had been a rough time for him. The friendly chime of the door as he went in, even Gavin's glower if he was late, all of it soothed his pain in those days.

Gavin was so serious, steady, strong, unflappable. He was an inspiration to Miles. A smart, disciplined gay guy was the complete opposite of everything his grandfather said about gay people. No customer, no matter how unreasonable could make Gavin lose his cool. Miles wanted to learn that trick so he wouldn't blow up and curse at his grandfather until he was blue in the face.

Gavin was his oasis in those days even if they didn't get friendly or talk much. And being here again brought back the way Gavin made him feel, so hopeful, almost confident, not to mention attracted to him. Every other time Miles found himself interested in a guy, it was someone from school, a guy his own age. But for some reason his attraction to Gavin seemed more significant, more real. Something inside him said this is what it's all about, this man, this feeling. If only Miles stood a chance with him.

Shifting his focus from the past to the present, Miles caught sight of his own reflection in the store window. There he was in all his scruffy glory. His hair stuck up pretty much on its own. Good thing since that's how he wanted it. He had on his favorite leather jacket, or was it a coat. It was something in between and it kept Miles warm enough, but its main value was sentimental.

Miles went inside the bookstore to the familiar sound of the door chime. There were a few shoppers in there, milling around, and Gavin was behind the register with his head down. He must have been deeply absorbed in something if he didn't give a newly arriving customer a greeting. To get his attention, Miles spoke up from just inside the entrance.

"Welcome to the Bookworm. Let me know if I can help you find anything," Miles said in the same bored way he used to say it to the customers.

"Hi, Miles. Isn't that my line?" Gavin asked as he looked up at him in surprise.

"I see it's still called that," Miles said, pointing a thumb at the sign, the back of which could be seen on the glass door. It said Bookworm in simple, black letters. "I always wondered about that name. But I guess it's good if you want to make your books sound stale, old and possibly vermin infested." Miles went over to lean on the counter next to Gavin.

For his part Gavin looked almost shocked to see him. "I wasn't expecting to see you so soon."

"I thought it was time I dropped by here."

"You never did before," Gavin mumbled then moved on to talking about the sign. "When I bought the store it was called The Bargain Bookworm. I decided to change it, but not too much. I didn't want to lose the customers I inherited from the previous owners. Didn't I ever tell you that when you were working here?"

"You didn't talk to me much back then. It was all 'shelve this, clean that'," Miles said and did a bad impression of Gavin.

"Do your job, you mean?" Gavin said pointedly.

"Yeah, you were a tyrant," Miles said but Gavin hadn't been a bad boss really. A no nonsense kind of guy, he seems standoffish and too serious, but really he was seriously hot. The worst thing about him was that he was so good-looking. And he seemed even better looking right now. Up close his eyes were a stunning blue, his jaw line was sharp, his mouth impossibly kissable.

So as not to give away what he was thinking, Miles turned away and started looking around, taking in all the changes since the last time he had been there. Right away Miles noticed that the kids' books section had grown a lot. As expected this time of year, Christmas and winter books were front and center, and a lot of them were about snowmen. There was a low, irregularly shaped, orange table surrounded by colorful footstools. That was new too.

Seeing what he was looking at, Gavin told him, "That's where Meredith does the kids' reading group."

"Meredith?"

"Your very capable replacement. She works the afternoon and evening shift so I can be home with Benji. She also does a lot of promotional work, reading time and she organized a few different reading groups. Right now she's doing a holiday reading blitz Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, and Christmas stories."

"Wow," Miles said, impressed. "She sounds like the complete opposite of me."

"She is," Gavin confirmed with an emphatic nod.

Miles gave him a dirty look then continued exploring the store. Gavin hung out near the front so he could keep an eye on the register.

"I remember the erotica section used to be here," Miles said as he made his way to the far corner of the store. He had to raise his voice for Gavin to hear him, and he objected.

"Say that a little louder, why don't you." As he said that, Gavin came over to join him. He was probably afraid of what else Miles might shout to him if he didn't. "Your beloved erotica section is still there. It's just a little slimmed down and higher up." Gavin pointed to the top shelves, well out of reach of any little hands and possibly even out of reach of most short people.

"Slimmed down? You mean nonexistent." Miles noticed that all the books that were still there had fairly safe covers.

"Benji roams up and down these aisles, and there are some things I'm not ready to explain to him just yet, maybe ever," Gavin said with a sigh.

"Where did Benji come from? I'm pretty sure you didn't have a kid when I was working for you," Miles said. "I know I wasn't on top of things, but I think I would have noticed. Probably."

"I adopted him a little after you quit. Decided it was time."

"So you've only been a father for what, a year or less than two years anyway?" Miles estimated. "For a newbie, you're pretty good at it."

"Benji is a good kid. He makes it look easy," Gavin said with a smile.

"And you're a single dad?" Miles asked tentatively. He was afraid to hear the answer.

"Yes," Gavin said and gave him a baleful look, like he thought he was implying something about his ability to get a man.

Actually, Miles was thrilled to hear it. After Miles stopped working for him, he was sure that the next time he saw Gavin, he would be in a serious relationship, maybe even married. That was one reason he didn't stop by until now. It would have been too painful to see that.

The big change in Gavin's life was completely different from what he expected. Miles asked him about it. "What made you want to adopt?"

Gavin gave him a one word answer. "Books."

"Really?" Miles said, looking all around him at shelves full of books and trying to figure out how they might lead to having a kid.

Gavin smiled at his confusion. "I kept looking at the books in the kids' section and thinking to myself, 'I want to read this one to my kid some day.' When a new kids' book would come in, I would think the same thing, like I was making a reading list in my head. After I caught myself thinking the same thing about a dozen different times, always making plans for 'some day', I wondered, 'What am I waiting for?' So I decided not to wait and started the adoption process. It took a while, but then one day it happened. Benji was in foster care until then. Meeting him for the first time, I was falling apart at the seams. I was biting my lower lip so I wouldn't cry and scare the poor little guy," Gavin said with a chuckle but his eyes were tearing up.

"It must have been something," Miles said as he tried to imagine the moment when Benji and Gavin came together as father and son. He couldn't quite do it. He couldn't picture them as strangers meeting for the first time. To him it had seemed like they had always been father and son. Miles looked at Gavin. "What was it like?"

"It was amazing and overwhelming. He was just there, this entire little person, my little boy. Real and tiny and a little scared. My kid. It was like a miracle happened right in front of my eyes." Gavin took a shaky breath. "Everything was so new then. Now I don't know what I would do without him. And speaking of Benji, I need to go get him from school pretty soon."

"Do you usually close to do that?" Miles asked since it looked like he was the only one working there right now.

"Only sometimes. Meredith is usually here around this time, but she had an appointment today."

"I can mind the store until you come back," Miles offered.

"All of a sudden you want to work here?" Gavin asked in disbelief.

"What? I wasn't that bad."

Gavin disagreed. "I remember you criticizing my customers' buying decisions and making inappropriate comments in general."

"Like when that lady was buying a Dr. Phil book?" Miles asked.

Gavin nodded. "Yes, and many, many other times just like it."

"I was being a good salesman, providing professional guidance. Anyone who would buy a Dr. Phil book obviously needed my services desperately."

Rather than argue with him, Gavin told him, "If you promise not to hassle the customers, you can watch the register until I come back."

"It's a deal. I'll mind the store, you bring that little dude over here."

Gavin shook his head at his enthusiasm then left.

Now Miles was looking around and thinking, "Like old times. Or maybe better."

Chapter 3

A little while later, Miles spotted Gavin out of the store windows. Next he heard the door chime and saw Benji running inside ahead of his dad. He came to stand right in front of the sales counter so that Miles had to lean over to see him.

"Dad said you are here. Hi, Miles."

"Hi to you too. How was school?" Miles asked him.

"It was good and I have lots of homework." Benji tapped his book bag as he took it off his shoulders.

Miles commiserated. "Life is tough for us students."

Benji nodded in agreement and went over to sit at the low, orange table in the kids' section. He started to unpack his book bag while his father came over to join Miles at the register. Miles noticed that the kids' table was in full view of the sales counter so Gavin would have no trouble keeping an eye on his kid from there.

"I see the store is still standing," Gavin said.

"Did you rush back to make sure? You should have more faith in me. I even sold some stuff. An art book, a calendar, and two suspense novels to a guy looking for something to read on the plane," Miles counted off.

"Two. Good work," Gavin said.

Hearing his dad praise Miles, Benji turned to them. "Does Miles work here now?" he asked. "I want to work here."

"He was just helping," Gavin told him.

"I want to be helping too," Benji said.

"First do your homework," his dad told him.

"You know while I'm here, I should pick up some Christmas gifts," Miles said.

He went to explore the different sections of the store, especially the ones that wouldn't usually interest him. After some poking around, he came back to the register with a small stack of books and showed them to Gavin.

"Check it out. A Christmas crafts book. My mom will go crazy for this. She goes Christmas crazy in general. Both my parents do. According to my dad, you don't have enough Christmas lights until you blow a fuse. As soon as Thanksgiving is over, it's like someone fired a starter pistol. My mom is decorating the house until it looks like Christmas exploded. And I swear, she starts baking Christmas cookies in August." As Miles talked about his parents, he got a little sad.

Benji's ears perked up at the mention of cookies. "Christmas cookies?"

"Yeah. I'll be getting some. I'll bring some over here, and I might even share them with you," Miles told him.

"I'll share mine too," Benji promised solemnly.

"What a generous boy you've raised," Miles said to Gavin, who smiled at his son proudly.

Miles left the books stacked on the counter and went to look at the kids' books. "I have a niece now, so I should get her something too."

"How old is she?" Gavin asked.

"She'll be turning one soon."

"Make sure it's a book she can chew on. That's what little kids do with them," Gavin advised him.

"I don't chew on books. I know how to read," Benji claimed.

Miles looked over at Gavin for confirmation. He mouthed, "Kind of."

With Benji at his side Miles looked through a few of the Christmas books though none of them looked chewable. Snow Party and Ten on the Sled caught his eye and Benji approved with a nod.

"That's a good one too," Benji told him when he picked up Froggy Gets Dressed. Then he whispered. "He forgets his underwear." Benji giggled.

"That happens to me sometimes," Miles said.

Gavin shot him a questioning look and Miles grinned at him.

Benji told him about the next book he looked at too, Snowmen at Night. "They have lots of fun but then they get tired."

"What's that one?" Miles asked about a book Benji held out to him.

"It's The Biggest Snowman Ever," Benji said and put his arms out. "I have that one in my book bag." Benji then went off to dig it out of his bag. He came back with The Biggest Snowman Ever and two other books.

"Look how many books you have. Should we read them?" Miles asked and Benji agreed.

The two of them sat down at the low table. Miles sat cross-legged on the floor while Benji took one of the footstools.

"Can you read by yourself or do you need help?" Miles asked him.

"I don't need help," Benji said.

"Then I'll read by myself. I'll read this one." Miles picked up one of the other books from Benji's collection. It was called The Red Sled.

"That will be quick. There's like five words in that book," Gavin said from behind the counter.

Benji disagreed. "There is more than five."

As Miles read next to him, Benji kept leaning over to look at what he was reading.

"Wow, you can read two books at the same time," Miles told him. "You want me to read it out loud?"

Benji nodded, accepting his offer. Sitting cross-legged and leaning over so Benji could follow along, Miles read The Red Sled, making the most of the few words in the book, especially the sound effects.

After he was done reading it, he decided, "I think I'll get her this one. It's not chewable, but I think her parents will have fun reading it to her." He got a copy off the shelf and took it to the register.

That's when a redheaded lady came into the store, apologizing and carrying a takeout bag. "I'm sorry about my appointment. It was the only time they had, but I brought snacks. I got egg rolls. I was craving them. I admit it freely." She set the bag on the counter then greeted Benji as he came running over.

Benji pointed at Miles, who was paying for his purchases. "Meredith, look. It's Miles," he said to her.

"You made a friend?" she said to Benji who looked up at Miles as if to confirm his status.

"We're reading buddies," Miles said. "And you must be Meredith. I heard you took my old job and put me to shame."

"Oh, I wouldn't say that. And that means you are the famous Miles I've heard so much about," she told him and shook his hand.

"I'm famous. I'm afraid to ask for what," Miles said.

"Nothing too bad," she told him with a wink, and Miles looked over at Gavin accusingly. He didn't even try to look innocent.

"OK. I'm off. It was nice to meet you, Meredith. Enjoy your egg rolls, guys. I'll see you soon," Miles said and headed for the door.

"Come back soon," Benji yelled after him.

Miles paused and turned to Gavin expectantly.

"Yes, please come back soon," Gavin said and gave him an ironically professional smile.