RSVP by December 20th: You are cordially invited to attend a Christmas celebration at Papa Lee's.
Casey Chambers isn't used to kindness; being tossed out onto the street does that to a person. His life takes a turn for the better when he lands a job at Papa Lee's. Not only does the Lee family give Casey a place to work, they give him a place to call home... And the opportunity to find love with one of their own. But Casey's burgeoning relationship with Marty Lee is threatened when Marty withdraws after a vicious attack. It'll take a miracle for Casey to convince Marty they're meant to be.
Good thing it's the season for miracles.
Martin Lee didn't exactly hate his life. He had a good job, a roof over his head... Okay, maybe it was only an apartment over his parents' garage. Originally he'd shared the space with his younger-by twelve minutes-brother, Emerson, who everyone called Sonny. When they'd turned twenty-one, Sonny had moved out to live with his girlfriend, and in the seven years since then they had married and had two beautiful baby girls.
Sonny's wife, Ellen, was always trying to fix Marty up with friends of hers. For the first two months, she'd introduced him to all her single lady friends. When Sonny told her she was wasting her time because Marty batted for the home team, she'd switched to all her male friends. She hadn't even cared if they were straight or gay. Ellen maintained that one day everything would click into place for him. He would meet that special someone, and he'd know just by looking into their eyes or by the touch of their hand. His brother teased his wife, saying she'd watched Sleepless in Seattle one too many times.
Now, at twenty-eight years of age, Marty still hadn't met anyone who he thought might be the one. He'd looked in the usual spots: bars and clubs. He was definitely over the bar scene. All he ever met there were drunks who wanted to grope him. Most of them were women - even in the few gay clubs he had gone to. Marty had even tried a few unconventional places like the grocery store, and again it was a bust. These days he told people he preferred being on his own.
Maybe if he said it often enough his heart would start to believe it.
As he stood in front of the hall mirror, he took in the bruised jaw and split lip and shook his head. Last night, while closing up the shop alone, he'd been jumped by some kids who didn't take kindly to "the fat fucking pervert living in and breathing the same air as they did." The stupid part was, they didn't even rob him. They got more enjoyment of beating the crap out of him until Mr. Parker from the grocer next door came to his rescue. Lately it was becoming the norm for the shits to beat on him a little. The police had been by so many damn times that he got sick of seeing them; they probably felt the same way about him.
A quick glimpse at his watch told him it was time to go. Grabbing his keys from the table by the door, he raced carefully down the stairs, not wanting to go ass up in the snow, and yelled for his mother to shake her caboose if they were going to get to work on time. His parents owned the small diner where they all worked. His dad and brother had the opening shift this week, which meant he didn't have to get up at the ass-crack of dawn. Though his job wasn't all roses, it did mean he would be stuck there until the cafÃ© closed at ten pm. Until they hired another person he'd be closing up alone, though Sonny said he would help out when he could.
His mother poked her tongue out at him as she locked up the house and climbed into the front passenger seat. "So, do you think your admirer will have been back today?"
"Ma, he isn't my admirer. Casey's a quiet guy who comes in for a good feed."
While he concentrated on backing out of the yard and onto the street, Marty bit back the smile threatening to spread across his face. The mere thought of the gorgeous young goth man who came at least once a week to eat at their diner sent a warm tingle racing over his skin. Too many times Marty had started to strike up a conversation, only to lose his nerve before the words left this throat. Quite often this left him feeling and looking like a complete idiot.
"Your dad thinks he could be a weirdo. Maybe we should ask him to eat elsewhere."
Marty snorted in disbelief. "Ma, he hasn't really done anything except eat. He pays his bill and never makes trouble. What logical reason could you give to ask him not to come back? Last I heard it wasn't illegal to dress like a goth."
"We'll see. Your dad's keeping an eye on him anyway." She looked at him sideways, "Your brother thinks he only comes in because of you."
"Ha!" Marty blurted. "Ma, look at me. I'm not exactly the type of guy men are interested in. I can guarantee it's safe to say he isn't coming to the restaurant to see me. Maybe he's interested in Cherie or Karen. Or maybe he's heard we have a budding star pastry chef in our employ now that Sonny's the Clayton's Bay Pie and Pastry Bake-Off champion."
His mother chuckled. "Maybe, but if he was then he would be nearly the only one. I heard from Cherie's mother the other day that Carmichael's Bakery is still claiming we cheated somehow."
Marty snorted. "Sonny would never cheat. He takes his baking seriously; sometimes a little too seriously if you ask me."
"Don't say mean things about your brother. You may need him one day."
"Yeah, I'll need him to look after you and Dad when you're both old and feeble." He cracked up laughing when his mother hit him and tried unsuccessfully to mask her own laughter.
Once they quieted down, they drove the rest of the way in silence, but Marty knew his mother would eventually come back and talk more about his self-esteem. They would end up having a huge family conference over it. His family thought they all had the right to weigh in and decide for him what needed to be done. They never would think of him as a grown man, not even Sonny, who was the exact same age as he was. Marty smiled to himself. He loved his family, but sometimes they drove him bonkers.
His brother and father greeted them as they walked in the door. Marty waved to Cherie and Karen, the two waitstaff who had been hired for the Christmas rush last year and had never been let go. After nearly a year they were more like part of the family. Cherie held up an order pad, waving it in his direction with a big smile on her face.
"Your boyfriend's not here yet." She winked as he playfully snatched the pad from her hands. He glared at his brother who was making kissy noises from near the sandwich press. Sometimes Marty really wished he was an only child.