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A Christmas Manny: Gay Romance
By Trina Solet
Copyright © 2017 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.
Gary had just sent off a batch of photos to the editor at Dream Garden. As he pushed away from his desk, he reached for his cane and got up, careful not to put too much weight on his left foot. At least he was off the crutches and his cast was off.
He went from his office to the living room where Scotty's blond head was bent over a video game. His boy was making scary, growly faces at the phone screen like only a seven-year-old boy could. Saturday was his game-playing day so he put in as much time as he could.
"You winning?" Gary asked him and watched him pause the game and look up.
"No. I'm on a tough level, but I'll beat it," Scotty told him and looked fiercely determined.
"Good. I was worried," Gary told him with a grin. "I lost track of time. Do you think the laundry might be done?"
"Maybe," Scotty said with a funny look on his face. He had been busy playing the video game and lost track of time too but didn't want to admit it.
"Let's go check," Gary told him.
With the help of his cane, he limped out of the apartment and over to the laundry room for their floor. Scotty ran in ahead of him and announced the time left on the dryer display. It was only a few minutes. Though there were some chairs in the laundry room, Gary decided he better not sit. With his foot still healing from a fracture, it was easier to stay upright than to have to get up carefully while at the same time listening to the drier making that horrible sound when it finished.
Gary had let the laundry get away from him over Thanksgiving. Now there was a big pile of it to get through. Good thing Scotty was there to help out.
There wasn't anything for him to do now so Scotty continued his game on the phone and waited. From time to time, he loudly announced his score and also the time left until the dryer was finished.
"When it's done, I want to carry the laundry, Dad," Scotty reminded him.
"That's a big load," Gary told him.
"I'm strong. See," Scotty said and he flexed for him. Not that Gary could see his amazing muscles through the bulky sweater he wore.
"That is impressive. This stuff needs a few more minutes before it's dry. You want to go check the mailbox?" Gary asked.
"Yes," Scotty said and put his hand out for the key. "And I'm gonna ask Doug, the doorman, if we got any Christmas packages."
"It's to early for that," Gary told him but he was glad his kid was eager to pitch in. He could use all the help he could get. He had broken his foot while photographing an air plant display for the gardening magazine he worked for sometimes. He got a great shot of a finch taking off from a purple air plant, but he also fell off the branch he was lying on and had to wear a cast for the rest of the summer. The risk didn't exactly pay off.
Now that Scotty had run off, Gary leaned his back against the cold, brick wall of the laundry room and waited for the drier to get done. It finished up before Scotty made an appearance, and Gary started to load the laundry into a canvass bag. He could carry the bag with one hand and still use his cane.
Just as he was leaving the laundry room, Scotty ran back. "You promised to let me carry it," the little strongman whined.
"You weren't here. What kept you? Did we get something interesting in the mail?" Gary asked as they made their way to the apartment.
"No, but I found something out," Scotty said as he picked up the other end of the laundry bag to help Gary carry it. "Mr. T is moving. Wayne is packing him. Better grab him, Dad."
None of that made much sense to Gary. "What? Who am I grabbing?" Gary asked as they arrived at their apartment and Scotty opened the door.
"Wayne!" Scotty said impatiently. "The guy who takes care of Mr. T."
Since Gary hurt his foot, Scotty had been doing more errands so he got to know some of their neighbors. Mr. T was actually Mr. Thomas, the old man who lived on the first floor. He had a bad hip and a young guy who helped him out. Until now Gary didn't know his name was Wayne, but he couldn't help but notice a good-looking guy like him.
"Oh, him," Gary said. Now he knew who Scotty was talking about, but he didn't know why his son wanted him to grab the guy. Not that there wasn't plenty of reason. Wayne was a strapping young guy that Gary wouldn't mind grabbing for himself. Was his kid playing matchmaker? Though what he pictured just then was probably not the kind of grabbing Scotty was talking about.
"Why am I supposed to grab him?" Gary asked as they took the laundry to the couch in the living room and dumped it out so they could fold it. Gary took a seat but Scotty remained standing or remained fidgeting.
"Wayne can help you. He knows how to take care of old guys," Scotty told him, sinking a dagger right in his heart while his blue eyes remained wide and innocent.
Gary was only in his early forties, but his hair was already graying and he was a little self-conscious about it. "Ouch, son, seriously. You're killing me with that old guy talk. And I don't need anyone to take care of me. I just need a little help with a few things."
"Wayne can help," Scotty insisted. "Come on, Dad. Hurry up before he's gone. He's packing up Mr. T right now. I asked him where he's going and..."
Gary interrupted. "You mean you were bothering him while he was working."
"Yes," Scotty admitted without hesitation. "Wayne said he was looking for work and a place to live that had roommates. And after Anthony went home, you told Kristen, 'We have the room. We can get a live-in hunk to stay here and take care of my every need.'"
Now that he mentioned it, Gary kind of remembered saying exactly that. He wasn't serious though, and he really wished Scotty didn't remember it word for word. "Don't quote me, geez." Then he realized that Scotty might have told Wayne what he said. "Tell me you didn't repeat that to Wayne."
"No. You're a grown-up. You have to ask him. I'm just a kid. Come on, Dad." He seemed to expect Gary to spring into action so he pointed at his foot to remind him why he couldn't.
"What exactly am I supposed to do? Chase him down?"
Scotty looked down at his foot and nodded. "I can go get him and bring him. OK? OK?" he kept asking, waiting for Gary to say yes so he could run off downstairs.
Gary was ready to say no. But while Scotty waited for his answer, he started to reconsider. Noticing how much effort it was to deal with just a few loads of laundry, he started to think about the idea more seriously. This was exactly the kind of thing Wayne could be doing for him. Scotty had to get to school and he couldn't keep depending on Kristen to take him and bring him home every day. With his foot like this, every chore was a nightmare, and everything he did took way longer than it should. Wayne probably wouldn't want the job though. After all it would be only temporary, but on the other hand he might want something temporary. Gary wouldn't know unless he talked to him.
"Can I go get him already?" Scotty asked, getting exasperated. Why was he so eager to drag Wayne up here? That guy must have made a good impression on his boy. And on Gary too if he was being honest about it. But Gary's impression was shallow, based purely on Wayne's looks – dark, wavy hair and light brown eyes plus that amazing build.
Gary had to admit he had talked himself into at least finding out if Wayne might be interested. "Okay, but don't drag him up here. Just tell Wayne he can come up if he gets the chance, when he's not too busy. I repeat – do not drag him up here."
"I won't," Scotty promised and ran out of there like a whirlwind.
Gary really did hope his overly energetic kid wouldn't hound the poor guy. As he continued folding, he started to wonder if he could really get Wayne to work for them. He might even be able to help him with his photography work. He already had to reject some of the jobs that came his way. He wasn't hurting for money, but he enjoyed the work and hated to miss an opportunity. Unfortunately some of the tricky shots were a real challenge for him now. For a while there he had Anthony helping him, but he was gone now. If Wayne could pitch in on his photo shoots as well, Gary wouldn't have to pass up any more of the assignments he was offered.
A little later, Scotty came back to report that Wayne would stop by around two. "That's when Mr. T takes his nap. I asked Wayne if he would make you take naps too. He said he wouldn't."
"That's good to know," Gary told him. He looked at his phone. They had time to have lunch and straighten up around the place. "We don't want Wayne to think we're slobs."
Gary got plenty of help with both making lunch and cleaning up the apartment. He should have left it as is so Wayne could get a better idea of what he might be getting into. Gary couldn't help himself. He had to straighten up at least a little. He didn't want to make a bad impression on a gorgeous young guy like Wayne.
When Wayne showed up, he was even better looking than Gary remembered – dark, almost black, wavy hair and the contrast of those light brown eyes. He was taller than Gary realized with an unbelievable physique. Gary tried his best to ignore all that. Wayne wasn't there to be ogled, and he wasn't exactly flaunting himself. He wore a simple, light blue t-shirt and khakis. Both were a loose fit, but there was no hiding that he had a great body under there. Gary didn't know how he would keep his mind on business around him.
"Hi. I'm Gary Radcliff. You came. Does that mean you're interested in the job?" he said too eagerly before Wayne was even all the way through the door.
"Nice to meet you. Wayne Burnett ," he said as they shook hands. His grip was warm and strong but the look in his eyes was uncertain. "I might be interested, but I don't know what the offer is yet." Wayne seemed guarded, not like someone who would jump at any offer.
"I guess I'm getting ahead of myself," Gary said sheepishly and invited Wayne to sit down in the living room. "My kid told me you needed a job and a place to stay too, right?"
"That's right," Wayne confirmed and took a seat on the couch.
"Scotty wanted to interview you. I was tempted to let him just to see what he would ask you, but sanity prevailed and I made him stay in his room, " Gary said as he sat across from him in the armchair. "With my foot like this I need help around the place, and we have a spare room. It would only be temporary. I also might need help with my job. I'm a photographer. Mostly I take photos of plants and food, so it's pure excitement."
"I don't know anything about photography, I'm afraid," Wayne said.
"You don't need to. Mainly you'd need to help me carry equipment and set up, keep me from falling over, that kind of thing," Gary told him.
"Is that a work injury then?" Wayne asked pointing at his foot, which was in a Velcro boot.
"It is," Gary told him. "I climbed a tree then fell off the branch. Got the shot though. But the magazine didn't end up using it."
Wayne tried not to laugh, but he couldn't help himself, and Gary got to see his smile for the first time. It was nice, really nice. But then Wayne went back to his usual serious self. "Sorry. I know it's not funny."
Gary knew it was. "It is funny. But sometimes I just want that certain angle. Things can look so different just based on the direction you shoot from."
"Sounds like you're really into photography," Wayne said, and Gary knew he had let his enthusiasm get the better of him.
"I'm just this side of an amateur, but the photo editors I've worked with say I have a good eye. I don't know about that. I just know it's something I like doing and I'm lucky to be making a living at it." As he went on about himself, Gary realized they should be talking about the job he was offering Wayne. "My cast hasn't been off that long so I can't drive yet. That's something I'd need you to do, and also to take Scotty to school. My friend, Kristen, takes him to and from school for now. One of her daughters goes to the same elementary school. Otherwise it's just stuff around the house – laundry and shopping. I can make the food and I even managed to clean up a little around here, with Scotty's help of course. How does that sound?" As soon as he asked the question, Gary got nervous that Wayne would say no. He wasn't desperate for the help. He shouldn't care this much, but he did.
"I can use the work until I find something long term.
I could commit to a few weeks. Would that be enough?" Wayne asked.
"Sure. I'm getting better every day. I just don't want to set myself back by overdoing it," Gary said and smiled. He was way too happy about that yes. What was he getting himself into?
"I'm going to be looking for steady work, going to interviews that sort of thing. I hope that won't be a problem."
"Not at all. You don't want to miss an opportunity. I can be one of your references, if you like," Gary offered. "Do you want to check out the room now?"
Wayne agreed and Gary led the way down the hall to the spare bedroom. He opened the door to what looked like a storage room, not a bedroom. Boxes were everywhere, but there was actual bedroom furniture somewhere in there too.
"As you can see right now we use this room for storage – some of my photography stuff, luggage, Scotty's souvenirs from visiting his mom, stuff we're storing for Brianna. That's Scotty's mom. You'll be sharing the bathroom across the hall with Scotty. For a boy his age, he's not too messy."
"It looks OK. I think," Wayne said since he couldn't see past all those boxes.
"When will Mr. T. I mean Mr. Thomas, be leaving?" Gary asked. he figured Wayne would start right after that.
"He leaves early tomorrow."
"That means you can move in here tomorrow right after that, if you want. Or after I clear out all this stuff." Gary looked at all the boxes. He wasn't sure where he would put all of it. "I can get that done today, probably."
"You want to clear this out? I don't think that's a good idea," Wayne said and looked down at his foot. "I think this is the kind of thing you're hiring me to do."
"Oh, right. So I guess that will be your first assignment. You don't mind?" Gary asked worried that he was dumping such a big chore on him before he even moved in.
"Not at all. Some of this stuff looks interesting," he said seeing what was in some of the boxes, which stood open because Scotty was always poking around in there.
"Those are some souvenirs from when Scotty visits his mom. She lives an interesting life. But his last trip was just to California. He spent thanksgiving with his mom and her family."
That's when the subject of the conversation poked his blond head out of his door. "Is Wayne moving in?"
"Yes. Tomorrow morning," Gary told him.
"Yes!" Scotty said and did a fist pump. "I'm going to help him move."
"Thanks," Wayne told him.
They ironed out a few more details and then Gary and Scotty walked Wayne to the door.
"I'll see you tomorrow," Wayne told them and smiled down at Scotty.
"Looking forward to it," Gary said and he wished it wasn't so damn true. He felt a surge of excitement at the thought of seeing him again, the kind of excitement that he might feel before a date but he never did.
This job offer was a nice surprise. It really came out of nowhere, and since Wayne first heard about it from a kid, he wasn't sure if he should take it seriously. After the interview, Wayne had a good feeling about the guy he would be working for, maybe too good. Wayne didn't expect to find a live-in job with someone who was so attractive. It shouldn't be a problem. Gary Radcliff was older than the guys Wayne was usually into, plus he was straight.
He seemed like a nice guy and his son was a lively kid. Scotty was the one Wayne had to thank for the job coming his way. This job meant he didn't have to move in with Mikhail.
Living with him and his boyfriend, Dan, would be like living in a gym. Wayne liked to exercise as much as the next guy, but those two took it to a whole other level. It was kind of much.
First thing Wayne had to do was text Mikhail and let him off the hook. He tried texting, but Mikhail texted back, "Do it old school. I want to put you on speaker." That meant he was exercising and wanted his hands free.
"Hey. I have news. I landed a last minute live-in thing, so I won't need to crowd you guys," Wayne told him when he got him on the line.
"But we were going to whip you into shape," Mikhail said, or maybe threatened. Wayne could hear him huffing a little.
"My ego appreciates that," Wayne said.
"I just want you to be able to take care of yourself. So what's the gig?" Mikhail asked.
"It's just temporary. This guy busted his foot. He needs some help around the house and driving, plus he's a photographer and wants a little help with that." As he talked Wayne pictured Gary with his hair graying attractively, his smiling, blue eyes, his body lean and taut.
"Maybe he wants you to pose for him," Mikhail speculated.
"I don't think he's that kind of photographer. What I saw around his place were mostly framed pictures of nature, plants, a tiny frog on a leaf. Plus tons of pictures of his kid. Did I mention that he has a kid?" Wayne said.
"None of that means he doesn't have impure motives, but I know you won't go down easy." Mikhail sounded like he was just messing with him, but he probably wanted to make sure Wayne didn't get himself into anything he couldn't handle. Mikhail was almost the same age as Wayne but liked to treat him like a little brother. Never having had a big brother, Wayne didn't really mind.
"He's straight too," Wayne told Mikhail to stop his imagination from running wild. "He seems like a nice guy."
"I hope so. Good luck. Let me know how it goes," Mikhail told him.
Done with his call, Wayne stayed busy making sure everything was packed and ready to go tomorrow morning including his own stuff. Most of Mr. Thomas's things were either being shipped to him or donated. Mr. Thomas's daughter had been staying there so she could help out and travel with him. She was out doing some shopping. That meant Wayne had a little time to himself. While he waited for Mr. Thomas to wake up, Wayne texted with his friend, Lila, and gave her the news about his job.
Once Mr. Thomas was up, Wayne updated him too. At the same time he talked him into having some food. The old guy wasn't a good eater these days.
"I'm glad for you." Mr. Thomas said. "A father and a son who live upstairs? The man with that wolf's head cane and the boy who calls me Mr. T, is that who you mean?"
"That's them," Wayne said while he heated up some cream of broccoli soup for him. He had noticed Gary's cane too. The handle was carved in the shape of a wolf's head. It was an odd choice for someone who seemed so down to earth.
"I hope they'll be good to you," Mr. Thomas told him.
"They both seem nice," Wayne said while trying not to show what he really thought of Gary Radcliff. Those blue eyes, the trim physique, that man was making him reconsider what his type was. Maybe he could go for a guy who was a little bit older.
It couldn't be Gary though, unless he was bi. Was there any chance of that? Wayne just didn't think he was that lucky. While he was preoccupied with his new employer, Wayne barely heard what Mr. Thomas was saying.
"I was a big A-Team fan, watched it with my youngest grandson," Mr. Thomas said while he sat at the kitchen table and waited for his food.
"Maybe you can do that again. You'll be spending time with your daughter and with your grandkids," Wayne told him.
"I hope so. I guess we'll see." Mr. Thomas had made peace with the moving into an assisted living community, but he still wasn't happy about it. Wayne hoped he would end up liking it over there. Mr. Thomas was a good guy.
It would be a nice stroke of luck if Wayne ended up working for someone else who was a good guy but also sexy and charming. What was he thinking? He really needed to stop obsessing with the guy he was about to be working for and living with.
Gary had no reason to be on pins and needles when he woke up painfully early on Sunday morning. He also had no reason to spend half the night tossing and turning, but there he was, short on sleep and fidgety as he waited for Wayne to show up and move in.
When he arrived, Wayne was empty handed and Gary went straight into panic mode. "You didn't change your mind, did you?" Gary asked, his heart sinking.
"No. I just wanted to clear the room before bringing up my stuff," Wayne said reasonably.
"Oh. Right. Good idea." Gary pretended he didn't just freak out for no reason and led the way to the bedroom Wayne was taking. He had already cleared it up a little, mostly of his own stuff. There were still plenty of boxes left. "We can put most of this stuff in the storage space. We still have a little room left in there."
Scotty was having his cereal and he brought his bowl over to the door so he could see what they were doing and also to scold Gary. "You be careful, Dad."
"I will." Seeing him eating, Gary was reminded to ask Wayne about breakfast. "Have you eaten yet?"
"I had coffee. I'm OK," Wayne said and just kept moving boxes. He was so diligent, but Scotty wasn't having it.
"You can't miss breakfast," Scotty said. "I'm going to bring you a bowl of cereal."
"Some people like to eat at the table," Gary told him. He then turned to Wayne. "I haven't had breakfast either. We could have a bowl of cereal each, but at the table, like civilized people."
Wayne smiled, set the box down and said, "OK. We can do that."
Scotty led the way to the kitchen while Gary thought to himself that Wayne had a great smile. A great body and a great smile – the man was trouble and he was moving into the room down the hall from Gary's. That guaranteed there would be more sleepless nights to come.
They all filed into the kitchen. Since Scotty was done with his cereal, he went to rinse out his bowl.
"Don't get your sleeves wet," Gary told him as he opened the cupboard and showed Wayne their cereal selection. "Take your pick."
Wayne chose to have the same one Gary was having, Then he made Gary sit down, and he took care of the rest with Scotty's help. Gary and Wayne sat across from each other at the kitchen table and ate together. It was such a simple, meaningless thing, but for some reason it felt really nice.
Gary would have to watch himself. He didn't even know if Wayne was gay, and he was already basking in thoughts of some kind of happy domesticity with him. Man, he needed a life.
As two of them were eating, Scotty went to poke around in Wayne's room and maybe clear out a few things too.
"You'll have to watch out for Scotty. He's relentless and he never runs out of energy. I use a tranquilizer dart to put him to sleep at night," Gary told Wayne between spoonfuls of cereal.
"That will be quite a change from Mr. Thomas. He always went out like a light," Wayne said and flashed Gary a small smile.
"I hope he's moving somewhere good," Gary said. "Is he traveling alone?"
"No. His daughter came back with him after Thanksgiving to help him pack and take him back with her. After he visited the assisted living place where he's moving, he said, 'I like the look of the ladies there. They still have some life in them.' I don't know if that will do him much good. He's such a shy, old guy," Wayne said. To Gary it seemed that he had a soft spot for his former employer.
"Maybe the ladies won't be shy with him," Gary said.
"I guess there's that. I want him to like it there." Wayne then finished up the last of his cereal and became all business. "About today, what will you need me to do after the room is clear, and I bring up my stuff and get moved in?"
Gary thought about it. "That should be around lunchtime. So I guess we could go out for lunch."
It had been a while since he could take Scotty to just roam the town. If Wayne took them, they could go for a drive instead. He didn't like to keep Scotty cooped up all weekend.
"What will I be doing? Driving?" Wayne said like that wasn't enough of a job.
"Sure. Once we're done with the boxes, I won't have any heavy lifting for you to do."
"OK. I could organize the storage space if you need me to," Wayne offered. He was already putting his bowl in the dishwasher. Gary could tell he didn't like to be idle.
"That would be great, but it can wait until we come back," Gary told him and started to get up. He was going to take care of his cereal bowl too, but Wayne got to it faster.
"Thanks. But if you spoil me like that, I'll get lazy," Gary warned him as they headed back to Wayne's new room.
They found Scotty in there busy rummaging through boxes. "Dad, I found a lot of good stuff. Look, this is the flute from the Andes that Mom sent me." He played a few discordant notes. "I'm putting it in my room. I'm gonna learn how to play it," Scotty said and then ran off with it.
"I hope he gets bored with that soon," Gary said as sounds of Scotty playing came from his room.
"From the Andes?" Wayne said while shifting some stuff between the boxes Scotty had opened.
"Scotty's mom is an archeologist. She's at a dig in Argentina right now," Gary told him.
"That sounds interesting," Wayne said, impressed.
"It is, but her work keeps her away a lot. When Scotty goes to visit her, it makes for quite an adventure. My line of work can't compare."
"Being a photographer seems pretty interesting. And you have your own kind of adventure," Wayne said and pointed at his foot.
"If you want to call it that. I thought I wouldn't be able to work, then I got Anthony to help me out. But we lost him over Thanksgiving. He went home to his awful family for Thanksgiving dinner and torture, and they ended up reconciling. So he moved back home." Gary was sorry to lose him but happy he reconnected with his folks. They had finally come to terms with Anthony being gay. Gary just hoped it would last.
"That's nice," Wayne said as he closed up some boxes.
"It is. I always thought family dinners were for recrimination and bloodshed." Gary was thinking of his own family.
"Some people have nice families," Wayne pointed out.
"Who does?" Gary said like it was unheard of.
"I get along with my family," Wayne told him.
"So you're the one. Me and my family are completely and totally estranged. Every Christmas I sent them a picture of Scotty, and they never replied. Nothing." Gary had lowered his voice to talk about that. He didn't want Scotty to hear.
"Sorry," Wayne said with a frown.
"I mean we are talking about Scotty with an oversized Santa hat, Scotty drooling on a puffy snowman, Scotty with reindeer antlers. Who can resist that? It's basically a Turing test. Humanity detected: zero."
"That's too bad," Wayne said. "But he has you. I didn't have a big family growing up. My mom was great though and she more than made up for it."
"Everyone on Brianna's side of the family is doing their part. That's where Scotty was for Thanksgiving. He had fun." As Gary talked, he checked over the boxes that were left. "I think there's more stuff here that Scotty will want. He treasures all the stuff from his mom."
Gary called Scotty over and they helped him fit some of the boxes in his room. Of course Scotty tried to show Wayne everything they were trying to store away. The way Wayne indulged him, it was clear how good-natured he was. But that didn't mean he should be left to Scotty's mercies.
"If you try to tell Wayne about all of this stuff, we will never get done," Gary told him.
He and Wayne went back to the other bedroom to reorganize the boxes to save space. There wasn't much space to get around between the boxes. When Gary tried to lift a box that turned out to be mostly empty and way lighter than he expected, he lost his balance. Luckily, Wayne was right there to catch him. One hand was firm on Gary's arm, the other one on his waist. If only they could stay just like that forever.
But of course they couldn't. That was dumb.
"Thanks," Gary said, his voice a little shaky.
"Watch it before you end up with any more injuries," Wayne warned him.
After that close moment, Gary found that working with him was a constant temptation. Nothing Wayne was wearing showed off his body, but it didn't need to. It was still undeniable that he was gorgeous from head to toe. He wanted to stare at Wayne admiringly. Even when he looked away from him, Gary wanted to maintain the connection, to draw him into conversation and find out more about him.
"You're being careful with your foot, right?" Wayne said when he saw him pushing a box out of the way.
"I can manage this much," Gary told him with a smile. It wasn't bad to be fussed over if it was a handsome guy doing it. Realizing he was grinning at him too long, Gary quickly looked away. He saw that the only thing left to do was to move the boxes that had to go to the storage space.
"These can all go to the storage space. I'll get the key," he said to Wayne.
Once he had the key, he watched Wayne stack two boxes and carry them with ease. Gary wondered if he might not be able to manage one of the smaller ones under his arm. Then he realized he had to open the door for Wayne, but Scotty wouldn't let him do even that.
"No, Dad. I am the doorman," Scotty announced and rushed over to open the door for him.
"That was his job when I was still on crutches," Gary explained.
"Sounds like he was a lot of help to you," Wayne said and smiled at Scotty.
"He was and he still is. Don't know what I would do without him." Gary winked at Scotty who looked both proud and bashful at the praise.
In the storage area for the apartments on their floor, they found that not much room was left in their storage space. They shoved things in there as best they could. Since it was close to lunch, Gary didn't want to dive into sorting through all that.
"We'll deal with all this after lunch. Let's get you moved in," he said to Wayne.
"OK. Then I'll start bringing things up," Wayne said.
"Can I go with Wayne to help him?" Scotty asked eagerly and he flexed for Wayne to show him he was strong.
"I don't know," Gary said and looked at Wayne to see how he felt about having the boy underfoot.
"I could use the help," Wayne told him, but Gary could tell he just wanted to indulge Scotty.
"I can come down too. At least I can hold some doors open for you," Gary decided, but the real reason was that he just liked hanging out with Wayne.
It was a busy morning of moving, and now Wayne found himself behind the wheel of Gary's Xterra. He thought he would be driving just to some place nearby for a quick lunch, but Gary had other plans. All three of them were bundled up and ready for a trip to the Japanese Garden and Museum.
"I thought we were going out to lunch," Wayne said.
"We are. They have a tiger woodprints exhibit. And winter is the perfect time to see the gardens," Gary said. "We'll have lunch in the tearoom."
"They have sushi. Sushi is for lunch," Scotty said. He was an adventurous eater for a kid.
"It's not formal or anything. They have a full lunch menu including this Japanese style fried chicken called karaage," Gary told him.
"I might have to try that," Wayne said admitting his weakness for anything fried.
The drive to the Japanese Garden was pleasant. The traffic wasn't too bad, but the landscape was a little bleak. The trees along the roadside were losing the last of their leaves but at least there were a few evergreens scattered among them to liven things up.
They arrived, parked and paid admission. Gary insisted on paying admission for Wayne too. "We dragged you here. Of course I'm paying," he said. "Lunch is on me too."
He pointed out where they would be having lunch, but they took a stroll through the gardens before going to eat. Their first stop was a water fountain made of granite and bamboo that tipped back and forth. They watched it for a while then moved on to a stone garden. It was all very serene.
Going further in, Wayne saw a stream that ran in front of a pavilion with a stone arch bridge on one side and a covered wooden bridge with a bench on the other. That was beautiful. A lily pond stood at the center and Scotty circled all around it looking for fish.
Noticing how Gary smiled at his kid with affection and pride, Wayne wondered what had caused him to become estranged from his family. He was curious, but he didn't want to pry. It made him think of Mikhail being rejected by his parents, but Gary wasn't on the outs with his family because he was gay. But maybe he was bi. Somehow Wayne still held on to that hope.
"This is perfect after our hectic morning," Gary said as he and Wayne watched Scotty. He was peering into the water then he started making faces at his own reflection.
Wayne agreed. It was so tranquil here with the other visitors moving around unobtrusively and keeping their voices low when they spoke. After following another path through the garden, Wayne decided that Gary's foot could use a rest.
"I think you need to get off that foot," Wayne said to him.
"You should listen to him, Dad," Scotty told him.
"I was going to," Gary said defensively. "It's about time we go and eat anyway."
Scotty led the way to the tearoom, running ahead then circling back since the two of them couldn't keep up. Inside, they were seated right away and Wayne looked around. The décor was serene and simple, perfect for the stark winter landscape out the big windows. The place did have a good selection for lunch plus every kind of tea imaginable. Wayne zeroed in on that fried chicken.
The food and drinks were served on elegant ceramic dishes, and everything tasted delicious.
"I always want to take a picture of everything in here," Gary said. "That's why I didn't bring my camera. I have no self-control." He then arranged his tea and the plate with food a little differently. He looked like he was mentally taking a picture of it.
"Eat, Dad," Scotty told him. "Don't play with your food."
Gary laughed, and Wayne noticed how good his laugh sounded. "I've taken a lot of food pictures, and this place does an outstanding job with presentation, so I can't help myself," Gary said then started eating so he wouldn't get in trouble with Scotty.
After lunch they went on a longer walk, but Wayne insisted they sit whenever he thought Gary should rest his foot. They lingered on both bridges and took some pictures with their phones. Gary's were the best of course.
"I guess it pays to be a professional," Wayne said as he looked at his pictures while leaning over Gary's shoulder. That was a little too close and he quickly drew back and just held his breath for a minute.
He was having too good a time hanging out with Gary and his son, and he was forgetting himself. For God's sake, this wasn't a date. Honestly, Wayne couldn't remember having this reaction to a guy who was likely to be straight. But his hope that Gary was bi was probably just wishful thinking.
The two of them were sitting on a bench while Scotty poked around nearby. That's when Gary took the opportunity to ask him about his plans and what kind of job he was looking for.
"I'm not picky. I need to earn enough money for another year of school," Wayne told him. "I always thought I would like to work with my hands, but somehow I ended up in the paramedic training program and it seemed like a really good fit. I lost a job that paid for my school. Then my money ran out so I have to wait till next year to finish the program. I took the live-in job with Mr. Thomas to save money. Now I'm looking for anything that pays well enough."
"I'm sure you'll find the right job. You're a hard-working, capable guy," Gary told him.
"You can tell that after less than one day?" Wayne asked.
"No, but Scotty vouched for you," Gary said, and that's when his kid ran over.
"Guess what this is?" he said and showed Gary a picture on his phone.
"This is a game we play. Scotty takes a close up picture of something, and I have to figure out what it is," Gary explained to Wayne. Then he took a guess. "OK. It's a twig."
Scotty shook his head and laughed. "It's not. It's the leg of a dead bug. See?" Now Scotty showed him another picture, this one of a dead and dried up bug.
"Good one," Gary told him and Scotty ran off again, happy that he fooled him.
Gary looked happy too.
"Seems like you enjoy being a dad," Wayne told him.
"Best thing that ever happened to me. I can't even imagine life without my Scotty," Gary said and Wayne saw love written all over his face and especially in his blue eyes. That was a really good look on him. Did the man have to be so loving and good-looking too?
That was just too nice – walking around, getting fussed over, then lunch, then more walking and getting fussed over by a gorgeous guy. After all that, Gary desperately needed something bad to happen to snap him out of this dazed, happy state he found himself in.
Maybe Wayne could start acting like a jerk or talking about his hot boyfriend. Or would that be his hot girlfriend? Gary had a feeling that Wayne was gay, but he couldn't be sure. And it was none of his business anyway.
As they finished up their walk through the gardens with a tour of the museum, their last stop was the gift shop. They browsed and Gary said to Wayne, "If you want something, it's on me."
"I appreciate it, but you already paid for lunch and admission," Wayne told him.
"It's a package deal," Gary said.
Wayne didn't take him up on his offer, but Scotty left the museum gift shop with a tiger print post card. "I'm gonna send this to Mom," he said.
While Wayne drove them back home, Scotty was already writing the postcard to his mom. They were on the highway driving through the countryside. The ride was pretty smooth so hopefully the postcard would be legible.
"That was a good lunch. Thanks," Wayne said to Gary.
"You're the one who made it happen. We couldn't have gone without you," Gary told him.
"I guess you don’t know about Lyft or Uber?" Wayne said while shooting him an ironic smile.
"No. I only know about cabs," Gary claimed. "It's not the same when you can't go where you want when you want and you have to ride with strangers. So I am really grateful to you for today."
"Don't forget there's more work to do. I need to sort out that storage space," Wayne reminded him.
Gary didn't want to be reminded though. "Right. I was trying to forget about that," he grumbled.
"Can I do that by myself or...?" Wayne wondered.
"No. We'll do it together, and I'm sure Scotty will want to horn in too."
Gary was proved right. As soon as they got back to the apartment and he mentioned what they were doing, Scotty wanted in on the action. They all crowded at the door of the narrow storage space. As he and Wayne tried to figure out how to rearrange the boxes, they were standing shoulder to shoulder and taking up the whole doorway. There wasn't enough room left so Scotty ended up with an obstructed view.
"You guys are too big," he complained. Then he heard the elevator. "I'm gonna see where it's going."
Scotty ran over to the elevator and counted off the floors as they lit up then called out. "It went to ten. Now it's moving again."
Wayne was shifting boxes when he noticed the labels on some of them. "Christmas decorations?" he said, reading what was scrawled on the box.
"I guess we'll need those soon," Gary said.
"One way to make room is to get the decorations out of here and put them up. Is it too early for that?" Wayne asked.
"Let's ask an expert on the subject," Gary said and called Scotty over. "Is it too early to decorate for Christmas?"
"No. We need to start right now," Scotty said with a sense of urgency that bordered on panic.
"I guess it's not too early," Gary said to Wayne evenly.
"Is Wayne gonna help us?" Scotty asked and looked from Gary to Wayne eagerly.
"What do you say?" Gary asked.
"Sure. I'd be happy to. It's not like I would let you climb with your foot like that," he added as he started pulling out the Christmas boxes.
"Get the train, get the train," Scotty told him.
"I'm getting all of it," Wayne told him patiently.
Once the Christmas boxes were out, it was easier to see what was left to deal with. They did some reorganizing while Scotty tried to drag the Christmas boxes off to their apartment by himself.
"Look what we've set into motion. Just look at him," Gary said, shaking his head. He turned back to find Wayne smiling at him.
"He's like a kid at Christmas, I guess."
"It's not Christmas yet. That's what worries me. Once the decorations go up, his Christmas spirit will rise to stratospheric levels," Gary told him but Wayne didn't seem worried.
Gary then realized that Wayne might not be with them by the time Christmas came around. That would be too bad. What Gary had to keep in mind was that Wayne was only with them temporarily. The worst thing he could do was get used to him. Actually, the worst thing he could do was fall for him. No. That could not happen.
With everyone pitching in, the boxes got piled in the middle of the living room, and in no time the decorations were strewn everywhere.
"What a mess," Gary said as he waded his way through garlands, Santas, snowmen, and ornaments from every country Brianna so much as stepped foot in.
"It's not a mess. It's Christmas," Scotty corrected him. he was pulling at a green garland, trying to untangle it but only making it worse.
"Let me do that," Wayne told him as he came to the garland's rescue.
"We have lots of those, and we put them everywhere like a Christmas forest," Scotty said and started pulling more garlands from a box.
"Don't pull everything out yet," Gary told him. They were already swimming in decorations. One of them ended up under his foot and Gary started to lose his balance. At the last minute Wayne caught him. Gary reeled from the warmth and the strength in his touch. "That keeps happening," he said as he regained his balance.
"You noticed, did you," Wayne said, scolding him.
"You saved Dad," Scotty said and smiled at Wayne. He then frowned at Gary. "Dad, you're too clumsy."
"I was trying not to break it," Gary told him and picked up the teddy bear in a Santa hat ornament from the floor.
"That goes on the tree. Let's go buy a tree," Scotty said.
Gary pointed all around. "Where would we put it?"
Scotty peered all around determinedly. "There," he said pointing triumphantly at the only clear spot in the room.
"Why don't you show me where you want me to hang this first," Wayne told him with a grin. He was holding the garland he just untangled.
Now Scotty was distracted and Gary could breathe easier. He watched as Scotty and Wayne worked together to get the garlands hung above the windows and doors. The ceilings were kind of high, so a ladder was involved. Not wanting to slack off, Gary worked on the decorations that went lower. The room was starting to look very festive, though still messy.
"You're being careful over there, right?" Wayne asked him.
"You're the one who's six feet off the ground," Gary pointed out.
"Yes, and that means I can't catch you this time," Wayne needled him.
Scotty joined in. "Yeah, Dad. We're busy," he said.
"Don't team up against me," Gary told them and Scotty giggled. Maybe that's why he wanted to hire Wayne, to have someone help him mess with his poor dad.
At the moment Gary wasn't doing anything risky, just setting some carved wooden mini trees on the bookshelf. He was also trying not to ogle Wayne up on the ladder. It wasn't right to admire how his muscles flexed or how his shirt rose up when he lifted his nicely muscled arms. All of that was wrong, but Gary still couldn't help an occasional glance his way.
Once everything else was done, they set up the train in the corner where they planned to put the tree. It had a wind up locomotive and Scotty got it going as soon as the tracks were down. The red and green train went only halfway around the track, but Scotty loved it. Now only the tree decorations and empty boxes were left to clear up.
"I can't believe we're done already. Thanks for helping us, Wayne," Gary said while he and Scotty gathered the empty boxes so they could go back into storage.
"Thanks, Wayne," Scotty said. "But we aren't done. We have to get a tree."
"We have to wait. If we get the tree too soon it will dry out," Gary told him.
Wayne took the boxes away with Scotty's help. On coming back, they both stopped at the apartment door. Wayne looked around and nodded with approval then Scotty did too. Such a little copycat.
"I want to send some pictures of the Christmas decorations to my mom and the kids, is that all right?" Wayne asked.
"Of course," Gary told him.
"Kids? What kids?" Scotty asked sounding both eager and a little jealous. Did he want Wayne all to himself maybe?
"My foster brother and sisters. They'll like seeing all this," Wayne told him as he snapped pictures. He then showed Scotty and Gary some pictures of the trio of foster siblings. "That's Peter, Delinda and Dory."
"Like the fish," Scotty said.
"Her real name is Dolores. Delinda and Dory were already sisters before they all became my mom's foster kids," Wayne said as he swiped through different pictures of them two little girls with big, brown eyes and dark hair and a boy with glasses who was around Scotty's age.