Being alone for the holidays isn’t good for anyone. Riley is spending Christmas alone as his partner Jaxon is serving overseas in Afghanistan for six months. His bar, Tumbleweeds, offers no respite and Riley finds himself missing his partner more and more as the holiday approaches.
Jaxon has been relieved of his duty and has managed to get stateside in time for Christmas. He wants to surprise Riley, but the weather may not hold long enough for him to make it. As Christmas approaches, both men realize that the thing they want more than anything is to be with each other for the season. As Riley closes his bar, he gets a present he’ll never forget and be forever grateful for.
“Hey, Riley! I need a couple beers. We gotta few here who wanna linger and drink the holiday season away,” Jahna shouted down the bar at me.
I popped the caps off a couple of bottles and set them in front of Jahna. “Coming right up. Looks like we got a couple tables still full. It’s that time of year again when no one wants to be alone, but no one wants to go home either.”
“Yeah, at times I know that feeling,” Jahna said.
“You have a husband, Jahna. You don’t want to be home for Christmas?”
“He’s on the road late this year. We face-timed an hour ago. He’s on his way from Denver and the roads are a little rough. I don’t wanna be home if he’s not.”
“So, you are hanging here with me? How romantic. It’s a shame my man wouldn’t approve,” I replied with a snicker.
Jahna shook her head and grabbed the beers. “You’re the only reason I work here. Every other boss would’ve harassed or tried to sleep with me. Here at least, I know I’m safe from the possibility of a creepy bar owner.”
I wiped at the bar to clean off stains from past drinks. “The pay helps, I’m sure.”
Jahna started to walk away before hollering back, “It helps!”
I watched as Jahna nimbly dodged the hand of an intoxicated customer. No more for that guy. I’m starting to hate the holidays. I had started talking to myself five months ago when my partner, Jaxon, left on deployment to Afghanistan. Home alone with only a German Shepherd would do that. Running my hand through my hair, I stared longingly at the door. Jaxon, baby, I wish you were home right now. I could use my own Christmas miracle.
It would only be a couple of weeks before Jaxon came home from his deployment, but I wanted it sooner. He was on his second deployment, and it was every bit as hard as the first one, if not harder since it overlapped the Christmas holidays. There’s something about the holidays that made his absence harder to deal with and the loneliness more overwhelming. I have friends, but it's not the same.
“Riley, snap out of it. He’ll be home in a couple weeks,” Jahna said, appearing behind the bar and starting to pour a draft.
I inhaled deeply and came back to the present. “Yeah, I know. Is it wrong for me to be wanting to see Jax walk through that door right now?”
Jahna put the beer down and hugged me tightly. “No, no it isn’t, Riley. I’ll be glad when he’s home, too. Keep your head up. It’s Christmas.”
I pushed her away playfully. “Bah humbug!”
“Remember, the bar is called Tumbleweeds, not Bitchy Boy Bar,” Jahna noted, walking from behind the bar.
“Yeah, well the other would get me lynched in a town this small,” I replied.
“This may be a small town, but everyone here knows you’re gay and Jaxon is your partner. There’s no denying that Laramie, Wyoming has changed over the years. We’ve moved forward a little.”
Finished cleaning out a glass, I paused and stared at her. “You know, you’re right. But I like the name I gave the bar. It fits the region.”
“You named it after a dead weed, Riley.”
“It’s part of the atmosphere, my friend.”
“It’s straight up redneck shit, and you know it,” Jahna said, smiling as she strolled to her customer.
“Damn right,” I muttered to myself. “Nothing wrong with that. I may be gay, but I’m still a country boy at heart, and ain’t nothing gonna change that.”
Tumbleweeds. It was, at least in my opinion, a great name for a small town bar. Jaxon had supported me one hundred percent on the purchase, and he had helped me redesign and renovate the inside.
When it came time to name it though, he had just looked me with those precious baby blues of his and raised an eyebrow before breaking out in laughter at my suggestion. He’d said it was redneck as hell, but it fit the region. In the end, he’d thrown in his support for the name, even though he found it cheesy.
How I missed those eyes and his touch. I loved everything about him, not to mention how good he looked in his Air Force Blues. That uniform brought out his eyes. His buzzed head felt good on my chest at night, and I missed running my hand over it. It tickled a little, but I loved it just the same. Damn, I miss you, Jaxon. I need you home now.
A cold breeze tore me from my reverie. Shivering a little, I saw one of my customers standing by the door, holding it open. The wind howled and even drowned out the jukebox. A few of the guy’s friends were shouting at him to stay longer, but he seemed to hesitate whether to brave the cold or not.
“Either stay inside or leave! Either way, close the damn door. I’m not paying to warm up the damn town,” I shouted while cleaning out a glass.
“Dammit, Riley, it’s cold out there.”