Recent graduate Dr. Fenton Miller takes December off to decide which job offer to accept. Then he meets his landlord, sous chef John Barton. Suddenly, thinking about his career becomes his last priority. A better option might be a month-long roll between the sheets with John.
While John is attracted to Fen and might even agree to his plan, John has got more pressing matters to worry about. His past has arrived in tiny Stone Acres from San Francisco and is intent on sucking him back into a life he hated.
Promising to help John and shelter him if necessary, Fen finds he's also being threatened by a homophobic father who doesn't find Fen as entertaining as his kids do.
As they wade through their problems during the happiest time of the year, Fen and John rely more and more on each other for happiness.
After a hectic morning, I'd finally gotten a chance to phone Blue Cottage's owner a little before lunch. He'd answered almost on the first ring. His last name, a one-word greeting, rolled over me and nearly brought me to my knees, it sounded so beautiful. God, I love baritones. His deep, husky voice soothed me. I could live under this landlord. I refused to giggle at my joke.
"Uh, hi. This is, uh, Fen Miller."
"You want to see the apartment." His tone said not to waste his time. I could hear the sounds of pots and pans rattling around in the background.
So I launched into my schedule.
"I'm off at five Tuesdays through Fridays, work half days on Saturday morning and Monday afternoon. Are any of those times good for you?" He wanted serious, I could do serious.
"Tonight at five thirty," he growled.
"Okay. See you then."
On my way to work, I'd driven by the house, paused in front of it, and taken a picture with my phone, then sent it to Mom in Davis.
Hey, Ma, what do you think?
Oh, honey, it's you. All yours or sharing?
Renter if it's not too expensive. Taking a look tonight.
Good luck. Call me afterward. Love you.
Mom taught English composition at a community college and was just as organized as I was unorganized. When I was growing up, she'd been tough, never wasting the sporadic childcare payments that my virile, sports-mad dad sent. I never doubted her love. In fact, she'd made my coming out the most anticlimactic in the history of gay mankind.
I had to choose which permanent, grown-up job to take. She'd put in her time and deserved more from life than parenting the "perfect" child.
* * * *
That night I stood freezing at Barton's door, admiring Blue Cottage. The snow drifts piled on the lawn made the house look greeting-card perfect. I searched for a doorbell. Instead, a lion-headed knocker snarled at me. I grinned. Every house needed an intimidating guardian, right?
A man who looked about my age and height opened the door and slipped out, shutting it behind him. I was curious to see inside, but I got that the guy wanted his privacy. No problem.
"Hi. I'm Fen."
He looked me over, then turned to the left along the shoveled porch. As he walked, he played with the keyring, bouncing a key in his hand. Did I make him nervous? If so, was that a good thing?
Okay. I took a breath and followed his pert ass and brisk steps as we rounded the porch to a steep staircase. From my brief glance at his face, he seemed okay. I was still slightly put off by his brusque manner. But hey, I reminded myself, I was renting from him, not fucking him.
In silence I followed him up to a small porch and a solid-looking back door, which he opened after only a little fumbling.
I was greeted by the stuffy, closed-up odor of a place long left undisturbed.
"You'd be my first renter. It's furnished, but I can store anything you don't want." He made quick eye contact with me. The words erupted from him like I made him uncomfortable or something. Maybe it was my piercing and the tattoo, or maybe the hair color. I tried a smile, but he blushed and turned away, gesturing to the rooms.
Even though the air inside was chilly, I looked around and fell even more in love than I had when I'd first seen the house. The 1940s era furniture and knickknacks turned what could have been sterile rooms into my kind of home. I exhaled, letting the ambience settle in my soul as I wandered through a country kitchen, tiny dining room, sitting room, two bedrooms, and a classic bathroom, ending eventually at a circular tower room. I fell even deeper in love along the way as I touched the scratched kitchen table, a velveteen-covered parlor settee, a solid-looking four-poster bed, and the needlepoint-cushioned window seat in the tower.
If I were Barton, I'd charge thousands a month for this place. I prayed he wasn't me and was relieved when my prayers were answered.
"You want to keep the furniture?" He still didn't look at me as he bent over the kitchen table to fill out the rental agreement. Who needed him staring? I could live with letting his voice pour over me and seeing his kissable lips.
"I can't imagine living here without all of it." Or maybe even you, I thought, eyeing his pert butt wiggling at me as he wrote.
He stopped, stood, and eyed me for a few seconds before bending and going back to writing. I hadn't said that about his butt out loud, had I?
As I was daydreaming about his ass and the scarred table, he stopped writing, looked over the form, and finally twisted it toward me. "Sign here, initial here, and date it. Then I need your rent for the month."
I was signing before he changed his mind. The rent was ridiculously cheap. "No deposit?" There had to be a catch, right?
I glanced up. He was gazing down at the table, or maybe at my hands. Or my groin? I signed as fast as I could and wrote a check to John Barton, the name on the rental agreement. So he had a first name, and we had a deal.