Hard Truths

Hard Truths

Author: Alex Whitehall

He can't have the family he wants, but he may get the love he deserves.

Isaac didn’t expect to find love at his family’s Christmas dinner, but that was before he met his sister’s new fake boyfriend. Tall, muscular, and tattooed, Logan is what Isaac would love in a partner—and also everything his parents would hate in one. Not that they know Isaac’s gay.

That doesn’t stop him from dating Logan—unbeknownst to his parents, and with his sister’s approval after she fake dumps him. The pair dive into a whirlwind romance of motorcycle rides, cheesy puns, and hot sex. They meet each other’s friends and fill their time with happiness and laughter. It’s all perfect.

Until Isaac suggests they move in together, and Logan asks Isaac to come out to his parents. Isaac wants to, but he’s scared; he doesn’t want to lose his family. Unfortunately, he can’t see that his real family has been right beside him all along.

The following formats are pre-orders: Ebook, Print, Print and Ebook
Price: $3.99

Reader discretion advised. This title contains the following sensitive themes:

emotional abuse, explicit violence

Chapter One

At the time, I didn’t know that the hulking six-foot-four-inch tattooed biker wasn’t actually dating my sister. They were certainly being handsy enough with each other.

Handsy at our parents’ house, on Christmas Day. I stood to the side, studying my prim sister in her jeans and festive red sweater, wearing little jingle bell earrings and her hair all done up, and wondered if this was a dream.

He loomed above my five-eleven height and filled the entryway with broad shoulders and arms that could individually have picked me up. They were tattooed from his knuckles up to where they disappeared under his short-sleeved shirt, and more tattoos peeked out from the neckline of his shirt when he handed me his coat. The shirt, I should mention, was a plain black tee, snug against his bulging muscles. His hair was dark and short. Like, I’m-growing-it-out-from-shaved short.

When Sue—that’s my sister—introduced him to the family, he smiled warmly and held out his hand to shake mine with a firm, confident grip, then pulled my dad into a bro-hug and called him “Pops.”

My dad turned a funny color and mumbled what sounded less like a greeting than an insult.

Mom looked torn between being ecstatic that Sue had brought someone and horrified at the resulting date. She welcomed him into her house nonetheless, and he kicked off his boots before she had to ask. Maybe he’d seen the pile of shoes by the door—Dad and I never did get the hang of using the shoe rack—or maybe he wanted to show off his holey socks. They were very festive. Green, with reindeer who were obviously offering up some tail.

Unfortunately—fortunately?—my parents didn’t seem to notice. I, on the other hand, had to fight a smirk to keep them ignorant. I did not want to be the one to explain to my mom why I found those cute lil reindeer funny.

The toes of one sock wiggled, and my eyes went up—and up—over the tight squeeze of the jeans across his muscular thighs and then along his rippling torso to meet his brown eyes. They crinkled in the corners when he smiled, and I smiled back, still in shock but also enchanted.

He winked.

Before my brain could process that—and the responding flutter that it sent through my body—Mom whisked everyone into the living room. I followed them in, definitely contemplating where this specimen of loveliness had come from and not staring at his ass.

See, he hadn’t been at Thanksgiving, when Mom had heckled Sue and me that we were nearing our thirties, so we needed to settle down and get married and have lots of kids for her to dote upon and spoil. Sue and I had shared looks, wondering why her grandkids would get either of those when her own kids definitely hadn’t. But we didn’t say anything. That was one thing we’d both learned quickly as kids: shut the fuck up.

Dad didn’t harp about the grandkids—he probably didn’t want the goddamn nuisances running around when he’d just gotten rid of his own—but he had complained that we never visited, I never helped him fix up the house, and Sue had, god forbid, gotten a second set of piercings in her ears. Thankfully once he got food and booze in him, he mostly watched football, by which I mean slept on the couch. Whatever, one less parent to deal with.

Three days after Thanksgiving, Mom and I received a text from Sue: I wanted to let you know I’ll be bringing my boyfriend to Christmas dinner. Didn’t want to rush him there for Thanksgiving, but we talked and xmas is good to go!

This had been a surprise, since I hadn’t known she was dating someone. And we weren’t hellishly close or anything, but if she was dating someone seriously enough to bring to Christmas dinner, then she should have told her big brother.

Having seen him, it all made sense: she was embarrassed of him. Or of us. It was a fifty-fifty on which it was, but he obviously came from a very different world than the one we lived in. For comparison’s sake, I should mention that while I was wearing jeans, like him, mine didn’t have holes, and I had on a button-down. My own hair was trimmed conservatively—longer on the top, buzzed along the sides—and combed to the side for today. I had no visible tattoos or piercings, while he had a bridge, lip, and ear piercing.

Oh, and I was white. He . . . wasn’t. At least he didn’t appear white. Not white enough for my white-bread parents. Not that they’d say anything to his olive-toned face.

“So, what work do you do, Logan?” my dad asked with an edge to his voice, like he was hoping to embarrass him.

“Oh, freelance.” Logan paused, then smirked. “You know, when I’ve got the time. This one keeps me busy.”

He smacked my sister’s ass and she giggled. The image was burned into my memory, despite my best attempts to scrub it away.

My father grunted. “What kind of freelancing do you do?”

“Whatever needs done. I’ve worked in warehouses, helped fill out security teams. Jobs where they’re hiring for brawn.” His eyebrows rose. “You ain’t hirin’, are you?”

“No! No. Nothing of the sort.” Could Logan hear the disgust in his voice?

“Oh. Too bad.” Obviously not. Logan shrugged, and his gaze slid to me. “What work do you do?”

My dick didn’t know if it was going to be set on fire or shrivel from the gleam in his eyes, which seemed fifty percent Go ahead, try to impress me and fifty percent I bet I could pin you against the wall with only one arm.

Okay, that last one might have been my imagination. My very active imagination. Oh shit, there’d been a question. “I design websites.”

His eyes went from challenging striptease to sparkling interest in a second flat, but quickly dimmed to indifference. Had I imagined it? “Oh. That must earn you bank.”

“I do well enough.” I shrugged, fighting down the heat that his gaze flared to life on my skin. “It’s a fairly competitive field with a lot of fresh blood coming in, so I have to work hard to stay current and keep my job, and sometimes the hours can be grueling. But I love the work.” Was I babbling? No one wanted to hear that much about my job. “So how’d you two meet?”

Logan swung an arm around my sister’s shoulders, and she giggled again. I’d never seen her giggle so much. That was a good thing if it meant she was happy.

“Well,” Logan said, pausing only briefly to nuzzle against Sue’s neck and set off a fresh set of giggles, “I saw her profile on one of those dating sites and I messaged her and it was love at first contact.” He chuckled lewdly, and it took me a moment to get what he was saying. I’d need to drink a lot tonight to scrub that thought from my mind as well. “It grew from there.”

“So you met online,” my dad said, his nose scrunching with distaste.

“Yeah, that’s how everyone meets these days, Dad,” Sue said, tilting her head onto Logan’s shoulder and smiling widely. “How else was I going to meet someone like Logan?”

Dad would probably have said she shouldn’t be meeting someone like Logan, but Mom announced that dinner was ready. Thank fuck.

Or I thought I should be thankful. Wrong holiday though.

“Would you like some green beans, Logan?” my mom asked him, offering the casserole up.

“Thanks, Mom, but I prefer meat.”

Was I the only one who saw him flash that grin at me? Was I imagining it? Was he flirting with me in front of my sister and family?

“Oh,” my mom said. “Well, there’s plenty of turkey.”

“I’m sure enough to fill me up.”

Okay, I didn’t expect my parents to get that reference, but certainly Sue—I glanced at her, but she was grinning like a fool as she piled mashed potatoes on her plate—or not. Maybe it was all in my head. Especially since Logan was putting helpings of peas, stuffing, and both sorts of potatoes on his plate. He obviously ate more than meat.

Then why had he said he preferred meat?

You know what? Whatever. He was my sister’s boyfriend. If he wanted to make tasteless, stupid jokes in front of my parents, that was fine. She didn’t seem bothered by it.

I tried to ignore him, but it was hard with him sitting directly across from me at the table. He had hellishly long legs, and his feet kept bumping mine. My legs were long enough that I couldn’t tuck them under my own seat, so it was just something we had to deal with.

Least his presence meant I also didn’t have to deal with my mom pressuring Sue and me to bring significant others to family events. She wasn’t going to tell Sue to bring someone else, and after Logan, she likely wouldn’t rush me into anything either. Not that I thought Logan didn’t have a shot. They’d warm to him. Probably. They lived in a closed-off little world, but they weren’t bad people. Or rather, I liked to think they weren’t.

But maybe if I believed that, I would have told them I was gay. As it was, I didn’t have any plans to tell them until I had a good reason to rock the boat and earn their potential ire. That reason would be a boyfriend who lasted long enough to be dragged to one of these gatherings. Hopefully someone as attractive as Logan, or else my sister would forever rub it in my face that she had better luck with guys.

I was drawn back into reality by Logan’s foot bumping mine. Again.

“Yeah, so then I told the mofo—sorry, um, asshole—where he could stick it,” Logan said, wrapping up a story I’d obviously missed.

“Oh. That’s. That’s . . .” My mom couldn’t seem to finish.

“A stupid way to handle it. Why not call the police?” my dad asked, as if he knew the answer.

“Naw, the po-po would have thrown me back in jail, man.”

Dad huffed derisively, shook his head, and returned his gaze to his plate.

Silence loomed across the table.

I took another bite of food. I wasn’t even sure what it was. “Mom, the turkey turned out great this year. Not dry at all. Did you do something different?”

And yes, insulting my mother’s cooking probably wasn’t the best line of conversation, but I’d panicked.

Mom huffed. “I did the exact same thing I do every year, but this time I didn’t buy a turkey full of antibiotics and chemicals and whatever else they load them with, so that must be why it turned out so well. I always knew all those drugs in the meat couldn’t be good for us.”

And yet she hadn’t seemed to mind feeding it to us for the last twenty-some-odd years.

“Mom, I don’t think those chemicals affect the moistness of the turkey,” Sue chimed in.

“Well, I’ve done it the same every year and this year it’s better, so I don’t know what to tell you.”

“Cheers.” I raised my glass and took a drink before anyone joined me. Logan downed a good half of his wineglass, and Sue seemed to be smirking behind her glass of water.

I really needed to have a talk with her alone today.

It didn’t seem likely that I would get a chance, though. Logan was glued to her hip—not that I could blame him. I wouldn’t want to be left alone with my family either. When she and I volunteered to clean up, Logan followed us into the kitchen. My sister insisted a guest shouldn’t be put to work, so he leaned against the counter watching us. I could feel his gaze prickling the back of my neck as Sue and I washed, rinsed, and dried.

“So,” I said, “how long have you two been dating?”

“Oh god, Isaac, not the third degree from you too?”

I sighed. “Sorry for making conversation.”

“In that case, when are you going to bring a little wifey home?”

Behind us, Logan snorted what sounded like a chuckle.

“Shove it,” I grumbled.

“Exactly. How about you tell me more stories about that client from hell with the president who changed his mind every time you gave him updates?”

Yeah, bitching about work was the easiest thing to do, and I was glad to, especially if it meant not talking about my nonexistent love life and my super-nonexistent straight love life. Not to mention I had enough stories about this particular client that I could have filled the entire cleaning-up time with them. Actually, I probably could have filled the entire day with stories of this asshole—may he never hire my company again, please—but I wasn’t that self-centered. I gave a few of the best ones, then asked about her business. She’d opened one of those yoga/women’s fitness/massage studios and was always complaining about not having enough customers and how WASPish the ones she had were. I got the impression she enjoyed the complaining, because she glowed whenever she talked about her baby.

So we chatted about nothing in particular and definitely nothing important with Logan lurking over our shoulders—and my sister’s obvious desire not to talk about him. Then the dishes were put away.

We all tromped back into the living room—and woke Dad up—to exchange presents.

Can I say that it’s kinda awkward to buy a present for someone you’ve never met? But you can’t not get a gift for your sister’s boyfriend at Christmas when he’s going to be sitting there. We all piled onto the sofas—Logan and Sue on the love seat; Mom, Dad, and I on the couch—then Mom leaped to her feet and began handing out the presents under the tree while Sue and I moved as little as possible from our spots to hand out the gifts we’d brought.

To his credit, Logan looked surprised to be getting gifts. And damn, his smile of instantaneous joy was gorgeous. Wide, pearly whites flashing, skin glowing. “Thank you,” he said when my mom handed him two little boxes, one of which I would bet was a gift card tied around something heavy.

Then I handed him what I’d gotten, and his eyebrow quirked a bit more playfully. “Thank you. This is unexpected.”

I tried to just smile, sit back on the couch, and not get lost in those eyes. I hadn’t noticed before, but his eyes were stormy gray rather than brown. Quite fetching. Plus the crinkles at the corners were still as alluring as they’d been on first meeting him— And I needed to stop staring at my sister’s boyfriend. I pulled my small pile of presents onto my lap, sorting through the ones wrapped with perfection and the two from Sue in gift bags because she and I shared the inability to wrap anything that wasn’t a book or a DVD. It made it super obvious when we were or weren’t giving the other one of those things.

She had two wrapped gifts and a bag from me this year. She grinned as she picked up one of the totally-a-DVD’s and shook it like a little kid. “I wonder what this could be?”

“It’s actually a gift card in an empty DVD case that I’ll need back, so the joke’s on you!”

“Hah! I’m totally using that next year.”

Finally my mom finished handing out presents and returned to her seat, and we—as we did every year—each opened a gift from youngest to oldest before it became a free-for-all. As excited as I was to open my presents and watch my family open what I’d bought them, my eyes kept being drawn to Logan as he unwrapped what we’d gotten him. The first thing was a simple jewelry box with a gift card to Dunkin’ Donuts, and the second was a box of hot chocolate mix with a Target gift card taped to it.

As silly as those gifts were, he smiled and said thank you. He did this thing when he seemed a little embarrassed, where he rubbed the top of his head. I wanted to joke that he’d go bald if he did that too often, but then it’d be obvious I had been staring, so instead I kept staring as he opened my gift.

Did I mention that it’s really hard to buy a present for someone you’ve never met, especially when your beloved sister’s idea of helpful hints is whatever and gift cards and he likes coffee—which explained my parents’ gifts to him.

Mine weren’t much better. I’d gotten him a high-end bag of ground coffee that I loved—and saved for my weekend cups so I could truly savor it, because damn it was pricy—and a mug that had seemed like a good idea at the time, but with my parents sitting here watching, I was beginning to second-guess giving it to someone I didn’t know.

He pulled the mug out of the bag, took a second to read it, then burst out laughing. When he’d finished, he glanced up at me and his grin was bright enough to burn my retinas. “Thanks, it’s perfect. I love foxes.”

Warmth flooded through my veins, and I was about ready to break out in a sweat.

“What is it?” my mom asked, and I prepared for the worst.

“It’s a mug from Isaac.” He held up the mug that read For [image of a fox] sake. “I don’t know how he knew I liked foxes, but thanks.”

My mom’s brow scrunched, and I could see her struggling to figure out the mug. I hoped she never would. To that end, I distracted her by thanking her for the button-down she’d gotten me. It didn’t matter that I only wore them at work or when visiting on the holidays—at least it meant I rarely had to go out and buy my own. She didn’t believe in toys or fun things as presents now that we were adults.

My sister, on the other hand, had bought me an anime series called Kids on the Slope, which my mom would probably think was a children’s show because it was animated. I was fine with her thinking that, or else she might start wondering about shows Sue’d gotten me previous years.

Finally all the presents were opened and shuffled out of the way. My dad settled in for his nap and turned the TV on, which cued my mom to invite the rest of us to the tiny kitchen table for a game of cards.

And that was when it happened.

I wasn’t sure how we ended up there, but my mom and Sue were in the kitchen down the hall and around the corner. Coming back from the bathroom, I was passing Logan in what had suddenly become a narrow hallway. Well, his shoulders were really broad.

I stopped and turned sideways, back to the wall so we’d fit, and then he was standing in front of me, far closer than necessary, not touching me but not arm’s-length away, and damn he was tall and fit.

And smiling in a way that was not sweet or innocent at all. “Thanks for the Christmas presents. I very much appreciate it.”

He totally casually put out a hand against the wall, pinning me from continuing toward the kitchen.

I swallowed, and heat flooded my face and other places not my face. “Hey, sure. I mean, we—I want you to feel welcome if my sister’s serious about you.”

His chuckle was downright dirty, and I swore he leaned in a little closer. “Honestly? I liked the mug, and your sister’s sweet, but I’d rather be unwrapping you this Christmas.”

In case I hadn’t gotten his implication—which I absolutely had—his hand touched my hip, slipped over my ass, gave a squeeze for good measure, and was gone just as quickly. Then I was alone in the hallway, not sure when he’d vanished, trying to get my racing heart under control.

Had that really happened? Had that really fucking happened? Sue’s boyfriend had hit on me? In my parents’ house. On Christmas. With my sister a stone’s throw away. Oh god. I had to tell her. I had to let her know before they got any more serious. Maybe he was joking. Maybe it was a misunderstanding—although I wasn’t sure how I could misinterpret his hand on my ass. Maybe they had an open relationship?

But how many relationships were open enough to involve one person fucking both siblings? I definitely didn’t want to fuck a guy that was fucking my sister.

Well, I wanted to fuck the guy, but not if he was fucking my sister.

Christmas dinner was sitting like a lava lamp in my stomach.

I whipped out my phone and flipped to my sister’s text thread. Um, your boyfriend grabbed my ass.

Probably not the most eloquent, but I was still standing in the hallway rubbing where his hand had been, and I might not have been getting enough blood to my brain to formulate coherent thoughts.

My phone pinged.

Did you like it? she replied.

Did you read what I fucking wrote? Your boyfriend hit on me! I hoped she could sense how hard I was hitting those digital keys.

Don’t worry. I’ll talk to you later about it. Come back and play cards. Mom is trying to both tell me to break up with Logan and to have a boyfriend, and it’s painful.

I stared at her text long enough that Logan passed me in the hall again on his way back to the kitchen. He didn’t stop and grope me—no, I wasn’t disappointed—but moved along like nothing had happened.

And my sister was telling me not to worry about it. I was starting to question her relationship with Logan. Mostly in all caps as internet abbreviations, like WTF, WTH, and OMG.

I followed Logan to the kitchen and my family and the cards. The only open seat was the one across from him. I wanted to glare at Sue, as if this was her fault, but sat instead. A few seconds later, I realized his feet bumping into mine under the table earlier hadn’t been an accident.

“So what game do you want to play?”

“Poker’s the only one I’m familiar with,” Logan said. Because of course. He winked. “And we could make it interesting.”

“I, um, I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” my mom said, and I agreed.

Mostly because Strip Poker With Logan was the sole game on my mind, and that was so horribly inappropriate that the shock of my own thoughts was the only thing keeping my boner in check.

“Blackjack?” Logan suggested.

Sue laughed and bumped her shoulder against his. “Don’t worry, we’ll teach you Kings in the Corner.”

What followed was a surprisingly tame, enjoyable game of Kings in the Corner. Logan cut back on lewd comments and shifted to fake betting, commenting on his homies, and making another reference to having been in prison.

My mom got quieter and quieter as the game continued.

I, on the other hand, kept studying Logan and Sue and was beginning to pick up on other things. Like how they weren’t being nearly as handsy now. Had Sue taken my warning to heart and gotten mad at him? But no, she hadn’t seemed concerned, and it wasn’t like she was pushing away his advances. Instead, over the course of the hour, they’d shifted from disgustingly cute couple in love to two friends hanging out with family.

And then it dawned on me.

Between games, I escaped to the bathroom so I could text her. Holy shit you brought a fake date to Christmas.

Her response was delayed enough that I worried I’d have to leave the bathroom or else people would begin to suspect my intestines had exploded.

But finally: I have *no* idea what you’re talking about ;)

Holy shit. My sister had brought a fake date to Christmas.

Which opened up a whole other set of questions.

Why? How did they meet? How did one go about finding a fake date for the holidays? HolidayHunkHunter.com? Why hadn’t she told me about this?

Well, I reasoned, finishing up in the bathroom, if she had told me, I’d have wanted to bring someone. And that would have looked suspicious. Especially since I’d have brought a man, which would have opened more than a can of worms. Maybe it was best that she hadn’t told me after all.

Back in the kitchen, I apologized for taking so long, but they’d given up on playing cards and were chatting while munching on cookies. Mom was mostly slaughtering a summary of a movie she’d seen—one I’d also seen but I wasn’t going to mention that.

“I just don’t see why they had to make him gay. It had nothing to do with the plot,” she said at the end, a small frown sending a cascade of wrinkles down her chin.

“They didn’t make him gay,” Sue said before I could.

Not that I could have. My tongue seemed to have swollen and stuck to the roof of my mouth.

“He simply was gay,” Sue continued. “That’s like saying ‘I wish they hadn’t made him black.’”

“I didn’t say that!” Mom complained. “And anyway, that’s apples and oranges. It’s not like he could help being black.”

A little more of me shriveled inside. Logan’s foot bumped against the instep of mine and didn’t move. Neither did I.

Sue sighed. “Mom, people are born gay or not. It’s not like dying your hair. He was gay in real life, so they made him gay in the movie.”

“But why did they have to flaunt it? It had nothing to do with the story!”

“They didn’t flaunt it,” I finally managed. “They showed him with his boyfriend.”

“Exactly! I don’t want to see that stuff when I go to the movies.”

Sue arched a brow. “Were there explicit sex scenes? Because I thought it was rated PG-13.”

“They kissed.” Mom sounded scandalized.

“People kiss in movies all the time!” Sue kept her voice calm, but her hands did all the shouting.

“But not those people!”

I fought hard not to wince, and Logan’s foot rubbed against mine under the table, like a silent voice of support. Telling me he and my sister were both there for me. Well, the guy had groped me, so it only made sense. He’d better be on my side if he was . . . on my team.

Wow, that even sounded stupid in my head.

“Hey,” Logan said before my sister could respond with what, based on her expression, was likely going to be a heated retort, “I thought you weren’t supposed to talk politics at the table with guests.”

He gave a friendly grin, as if he were a silly ol’ man who didn’t know etiquette, and Sue caught herself.

“You’re right. Mom, we can talk about this later. Zacky—”

“Oh god, don’t call me that.”

“—you should tell Mom about that client who wanted everything in pink and purple with glitter accents.”

So I did. It was a hilarious story—although it’d been endlessly frustrating at the time. It had ended up okay though: the client had realized that maybe there were benefits to not going overboard and that maybe her designers knew what they were talking about. We’d included all the main design features that she’d wanted without making the viewer want to stab themselves in the eyes. But the story got to be dramatic and over the top—exactly like the client had been.

Everyone was laughing by the end, although Logan and Sue had already heard me tell the story—and with more cursing. At least it had changed the subject. Shortly after, Dad was awake and itching for pie, so we shuffled into the dining room and moved on with our day, the horrors of men kissing on-screen forgotten.

That was the tricky part about being with family. It was easy to fall into the same patterns, to ignore what you didn’t like about each other, to put up with each other, because there was a basis of love. Or enough of it that continuing to follow those patterns was easier than stopping would be. It was why Sue and I came even though we disagreed with a lot of our parents’ thinking. It was why Mom and Dad didn’t disown Sue even though they’d always threatened to if she was sexually active before marriage. It was why they held their tongues—for today—about how disappointed they were in her bringing Logan to our family Christmas. I’m sure she’d get an earful later over the phone, but for now we all played nice.

Which was how the day passed. Then it was time to go and we packed our cars with our presents. We all took turns hugging, giving me a chance to demand Sue explain everything to me later. I ended up getting a bear hug from Logan. Or it had seemed like it was going to be a bear hug, and from the outside it probably looked that way. From the inside, his groin was pressed against mine and he didn’t mutter Christmas greetings but directions.

“Check your back pocket.”

Then he released me and gave my parents the same great big hug—with less crotch contact, I hoped—and we piled into our cars and left.

I had survived another Christmas. This one had certainly been an adventure, and I had a two-hour drive home to think about it. Not that it helped. By the time I pulled up to the curb in front of my condo, I still hadn’t figured much more out about Sue and Logan and all that had happened. Perturbed, I tried not to think about it anymore as I unloaded my car.

It was only when I took off the jeans and pulled on sweats that I remembered Logan’s instructions. In my back pocket where he’d groped me, he had also slipped a business card with his name, contact information, and a web address, with Call me! scribbled across one edge.

I stared at the card for a good long while, part of my brain trying to come to terms with the fact that this had come from my sister’s boyfriend—although most of me knew it had all been an act. Still, that wasn’t something I wanted to deal with tonight. My sister had a farther drive than I did, and I was exhausted. I set the card on the kitchen table, grabbed my tablet, and slumped on the couch to get lost in a book.

Sue, Logan, and Christmas realizations could all wait until the next morning.


Chapter Two

I woke up with a food hangover, my mouth dry and my head begging for caffeine. I fell out of bed, shivering as the chill air hit my skin, pulled on my sweats and hoodie, and stumbled into the kitchen, where I’d thought far enough ahead last night to set the timer, and a cup of coffee was brewing for me.

A true Christmas miracle. Along with not having work. Thank the powers that be for long weekends. I tossed a bagel into the toaster and slumped against the counter while I waited for everything to be ready.

My gaze landed on the business card I’d left carelessly on the table, the white exceptionally bright this morning in the natural light. Or else my caffeine needs were critical. Either way, I was reminded of Logan and Sue and yesterday, and I searched for my phone.

A text this morning from Sue: Call when you’re up.

Command obeyed.

“Morning, Isaac!”

“Hey. You’ve got some explaining to do.”

“Me? You’re the one who couldn’t keep his eyes off my boyfriend!” Her righteous indignation was so fake, I didn’t need her laughter to clue me in.

I ignored what it meant that I’d been caught staring. “And that’s the first thing you need to explain, missy!”

“Okay, okay. You’re sick of Mom harassing us about not having dates too, yeah?” She didn’t pause for me to answer. “So I was on this site and saw this dude offering up his services. Pretty much to be a date for someone to take to a holiday dinner. Good or bad, although you know which I wanted to shove in Mom’s and Dad’s faces. He was willing to be worse, but I said he could totally go low-key with it. Mom and Dad aren’t bad, yeah? Only kind of . . . unexposed. So I thought it’d be good if they faced everything they feared and had to play nice. And Mom wasn’t going to say anything with him there, so you and I would get out of it for a bit.”

“And what did Logan—if that is his real name—get out of it?”

“He’s got no family and his friends were going through a thing this year—I didn’t ask for details—so he was gonna be alone for Christmas. Or maybe he wanted to avoid his friends’ Christmas, I dunno. This way he got company and dinner. And a new friend, because he is hilarious. We went on fake dates so we’d actually know each other, and he’s a blast!”

I scoffed. “Maybe you’ll be dating him for real next year.”

“Yeah, if he didn’t bat for your team, that might be an option.”

My throat closed and my stomach clenched. The silence between us stretched, tightening the noose around my neck as I struggled to breathe and speak.

“Sorry,” Sue said, her voice softening. “I shouldn’t assume. But, uh, I got the impression from some of your posts online that you were gay. And I probably should have said something. I’m sorry. I guess I wanted you to feel safe enough with me to tell me yourself, but that was kind of an asshole move. So, Isaac, I love you and it doesn’t matter if you’re gay. If you are, I want you to know that I’m a safe space.”

“Thank you.” It was the only thing I managed to squeak out. Probably because I was too busy wiping tears from my cheeks. I cleared my throat and tried again. “Thank you. That means a lot. And yeah, you’re right, I’m gay.” I paused, then added, hoping for levity, “For all the good it’s done me getting a guy.”

She giggled. “Well, Logan’s gay, if that helps.”

“Listen, just because we’re both gay—”

“And you were eye-humping him the whole day.”

“—doesn’t mean we’re Noah’s fucking matched pair.”

“I know. But he mentioned that you were hella cute.”

I ignored the excited thump of my heart. “He actually said, ‘hella cute’?”

“No, he said, ‘Why didn’t you tell me your brother was a hotter guy version of you?’ Which made me almost crash the car, so I was trying not to relive it.”

My bagel popped, and I nearly dropped the phone. “So. Yes. Um.” I blamed my inability to form a sentence on the fact that I was trying to talk and butter a bagel and I still hadn’t had a cup of coffee yet.

“That’s what I thought. I mean, I’ve got eyes. Logan is hella cute too. And you can’t deny you were interested.”

“He gave me his card. Business card?” I said by way of answering.

“Then call him. If you want.” She said that last part as if giving me a way out. Wasn’t that nice of her?

“Won’t Mom and Dad be a little confused if I start dating your boyfriend?”

“Something tells me they’ll be too distracted by the fact you’re dating a guy to harp on the details.”

And there was the awful truth. “I guess it wouldn’t hurt to call.”

“You should. And you two can totally geek out together over graphic resolutions and visual layouts. Plus he’s already sister-approved!”

“Because that’s definitely what I dig in a guy. My sister’s approval.”

She snorted. “Maybe you should.”

“I am not having this conversation before my first cup of coffee, so we need to change the subject.” Speaking of—I poured a glorious mugful and added a teaspoon of sugar, then took cup and bagel to the table.

“That’s all I’ve got. I figured it’d be better to have this talk on the phone. And I wanted to apologize for not telling you before, but I needed you to have a natural surprised reaction.”

“To see if I was a bigoted racist too?”

“No, but you are shit at acting.”

“I’m hanging up now.”

“I love you!”

I chuckled. “I love you too, Sue. Thanks for calling to let me know the truth. I was kind of surprised when your boyfriend wanted to unwrap me.”

“He what?”

“Talk to you later.”

“No! Wait—”

I hung up. Then immediately texted her: It was all good. He was slipping me his number.

That might not have been the full truth, but she hadn’t seemed upset with him hitting on me while they were “dating.” After all, it would make him less desirable to Mom and Dad if they found out he was cheating on his girlfriend with her brother.

Which was too complicated a thought for this early in the morning. I took a long sip of coffee and sighed.

Yes, there was no rush. Now it was a matter of working up the nerve to contact Logan—if that was something I wanted to do.

Who was I kidding? Of course it was. Though maybe not before breakfast.

In fact, the day after Christmas probably wasn’t ideal at all. But his Call me! didn’t have many details, and the longer I waited, the more awkward it would become. So I ate my breakfast, fortified myself with coffee, took a shower, got dressed, and sat down to google him. Like a true nerd do.

I was surprised to find the website on the business card was for his graphic design business, which meant the freelancing that he’d mentioned was both true and false. I browsed the site, checking out work he’d done for previous clients and some of his avant-garde selections. He did good work, and if the company I worked for didn’t already have a full staff of graphic designers, I would have nudged them toward him. As it was, I flipped through his site, appreciated his talent, and didn’t nitpick about the site’s construction.

Not that I based potential dates on their use of white space and intuitive navigation interface.

There wasn’t much to find about him online—he seemed to be a private man. All his social media accounts were friends locked, so I could see that he had the accounts, but not what he did with them.

Which meant there was nothing left to do but call him.

After I went to pick up some groceries.

General Details

Word Count: ~65,600

Page Count: ~248

Cover By: L.C. Chase

Ebook Details

ISBN: 978-1-62649-846-4

Release Date: 10/01/2018

Price: $3.99

Print Details

ISBN: 978-1-62649-847-1

Release Date: 10/01/2018

Price: $14.39