Damn, I hate my father! The old bastard had me drive two hours in the mid- December snow to do his dirty work. Over the past few months my father had gotten a taste of his mortality. A mild heart attack left him tired and bedridden for weeks and he’d driven everyone in the house crazy. My father had always been pushy and bossy, even when he was in a good mood, but having him confined to bed was enough for any of us to contemplate smothering him with a pillow. My brother and sister were absolutely going out of their wits trying to cater to my father’s every whim. You see, my father had a lot of money, and they wanted to make sure they got their share. I was lucky – well, lucky and hardworking – since I’m the only one with a separate income.
While all three of us had gone to college, my brother Ned had graduated and then moved right back home with his wife Anne to live with my parents. My sister, Christine, wasn’t much better. She somehow managed to graduate with a degree in interior design, but she didn’t have the ambition and drive needed in order to become a success. They were both basically good people, and if my father hadn’t spent most of his time belittling everything they did, they might have made something of themselves. To be honest, I’m not much better, because I too moved back home after college.
This morning my father had summoned me to him through Raymond, his personal assistant. I was sitting at my desk in my bedroom working on a short story. I’d graduated from college with a degree in English two years earlier. At first, I didn’t have much luck getting a job, so I spent a lot of time at the gym, and I started reading erotic gay love stories while I was on the treadmill. After reading a number of them, I figured I’d try writing one. I liked the process and enjoyed reading what I’d written, so when I was done, I submitted it to a publisher. They liked it, printed it, and I’d been writing for them ever since. In addition, with help from my publisher, I’d also had short stories published in a couple of magazines. It was a good arrangement, and no one in my family knew I had my own source of income.
I was just getting to the really good part of the story when I heard a soft knock on my door. “Blayne, your father would like to see you in his room.” I’d always liked Raymond, and I knew that he’d cleaned up what my father had actually said.
I huffed to myself because I was in the zone and could have easily finished in another hour. “Tell him I’ll be right there.” Raymond shot a smile at me and I returned it. I knew he was only doing his job.
Pushing back from my desk, I saved and closed the file on my laptop, locked it from prying eyes, then headed out of my room and down the long, paneled hall to my father’s office, located next to his bedroom. I knocked and then opened the door. “Raymond said you wanted to see me.”
My father was sitting at his desk with a blanket wrapped around his legs. Papers were piled all around him. He’d always been a strong, active man, but since the heart attack he’d looked weak and sort of frail, but his tongue was as sharp as ever.
“Yes, I bloody well did. I want you to take care of something.” I said nothing and waited. “Over the last few weeks I’ve started the process of simplifying my estate. Selling off hard-to-manage properties and liquidating unproductive assets.” He sifted through some of the papers on his desk. “Your grandfather bought a parcel of wooded land decades ago. He never did anything with it, the fool.” Disliking your father was fast becoming a tradition in my family. “I was approached by a developer a few weeks ago about purchasing the property and I’ve decided to sell it.”
That pronouncement hit me cold. I’d visited the property with Grandpa and we’d hunted and fished there. Those memories were particularly strong and happy, some of the best I have, and I’d always hoped that the land would be part of my inheritance. But I knew arguing with Dad right now would be useless, so I kept quiet.
“I didn’t take the developer’s offer; it was too low. But there is someone living on the property and I want you,” he pointed and wagged his finger at me like a recalcitrant child, “to go up there and evict him. I’ll pay to relocate him and get him an apartment.”
“Who is it?” I’d never heard about a tenant and I’d never seen one when I had visited with Grandpa.
My father waved his hand in dismissal. “He’s some old man that your grandfather let live on the property years ago. He shouldn’t be any trouble. He hasn’t paid rent in years. I’ve already called the sheriff and told him what’s going on. He’ll help you get rid of him if you need it.”
“When do you want me to leave?” I looked outside and saw that it was already starting to snow, and I didn’t relish heading farther north.
“I want this taken care of right away. The sooner he’s gone, the sooner I can sell the property, and the sooner I can get this over with.” That was my father to a tee. If he got something in his mind, he’d take care of it right away; otherwise, it could languish for years completely ignored. He turned in his chair, his once bright eyes now dull and gray. “Leave today, and get it taken care of.” He turned back to his papers and I was dismissed.
I walked back to my room, swearing softly under my breath. I actually had work to do. Still grumbling to myself, I packed some warm clothes into a suitcase, grabbed my winter coat, packed my laptop and notes, and started down the hall. I passed Christine as I was going down the stairs heading to the front door.
“Where are you going in weather like this?”
“I have to run an errand up north for Dad. I’ll be gone a few days.” My face didn’t hide the fact that I didn’t want to go.
“In weather like this? You should wait to leave until tomorrow.” Christine was always very practical and probably had the most common sense of any of us.
I jerked my head toward the stairs and smirked. “Our father’s in a hurry and told me to leave right away.” I leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. “I’ll be careful.” I really loved Christine; she was the most cheerful of all of us and she made life with my father bearable.
I knew she’d worry, so I promised to call her when I arrived, then headed out the door to my car. Unlike Ned and Christine, I drove a nice car, rather than an expensive, fancy model. My father had told me he’d buy me a car when I graduated from college. I’d told him I’d like to pick it out myself, so he wrote me a check. I bought a good, inexpensive, safe car and banked the rest of the money. I’d seen what complete dependency on my father had done to Ned and Christine and I wanted no part of it. So for years I’d returned many of the expensive but needless gifts I’d received from my father, picked out by his personal assistants, and banked the cash.
I unlocked my car, threw my things in the backseat, started the engine, and pulled out of the circular driveway onto our quiet, secluded street on my way to the highway heading north.
An hour later, the snow was still falling steadily as I continued driving. It was only mid-afternoon and, with any luck, I could make it to the property while it was still light, deliver my message, get a hotel room for the night, and head home in the morning.
I usually love to drive, but I was not enjoying this ride, and the more I thought about the task my father had set for me, the more I hated doing his dirty work. Evicting an old man from the home he’d known for years did not sit well with me. Jesus, Dad, how can you be so heartless? I already knew my father’s answer: “Money has no heart.” And let’s face it, money was what my father cared about most. Well, money and the power it gave him.
As I continued driving, the snow grew steadily heavier and heavier. By the time I’d turned off the highway, it was a near whiteout, but at least the wind wasn’t blowing. It took me another half-hour to reach the property. A road ran around two sides of the acreage and I looked carefully to see where the tenant might live. After driving slowly along the road for ten or fifteen minutes, I thought I saw tracks, partially covered, heading off into the woods. I pulled off the road and the car immediately sank to the axles in snow. Great. Just what I wanted to do: dig the car out of a snowdrift. Luckily I had a shovel in the trunk. I pulled out my cell phone to see if I had service. Just barely. Thank god. I could call a tow truck.
I decided to get the unpleasant job over first, so I pulled on my warm clothes, opened the door, and stepped out of the car into knee-deep snow. The trees were iced in white, their bare branches black on the bottom with snow clinging to the tops. There was no human noise, just the sounds of the air and the trees as they creaked under their burden. It was a pristinely beautiful sight: the snow, the bare branches, the occasional green of the pines. I shut the car door and followed the tracks into the woods. Under the trees the snow wasn’t as deep and it was easier to walk. The tracks were clearly visible and I followed them for about ten minutes. Finally, as dusk was starting to settle in, I saw light coming from what looked like a small window. Thanking my lucky stars, I trudged toward the source of the light.
As I got closer, I saw what looked like a small cabin. Warm light spilled from the windows and smoke rose from the chimney. I trudged forward and arrived at the door. I knocked and heard movement inside. A minute later the door opened a little and a face appeared in the gap.
“What do you want?” The voice was mellow, rich, tinged with a little fear.
“My car is stuck in the snow.” I decided not to conduct the business I needed to in the freezing cold.
The door opened the rest of the way and I gaped into the eyes and face of a beautiful young man about my same age. I was expecting an old man, and instead my father’s tenant looked no older than me. How could that be? My father had specifically said that the tenant had lived here for years.
“Well, shake off the snow and come inside.” I stomped the snow off my clothes and boots before stepping just inside the door. He closed the door quickly and turned to face me. “Where is your car?”
“Just off the main road. I followed tracks in the snow to your cabin.” I looked around the small space. It was rustic but clean, furnished with basic homemade furniture.
“Take off your coat and boots.” I did as he instructed. “You can go stand by the fire to get warm. I’ll make you a pot of coffee.” His voice sounded almost musical.
“Thank you.” I didn’t know what else to say. I stepped toward the fire, its warmth thawing me from the outside in, and I took the opportunity to look around the small space. There was a chair by the fireplace, a lamp next to the chair, a small dining table next to the tiny kitchen area, and in one corner a bed with a homemade quilt.
I heard him work in the kitchen, and a few minutes later he brought me a cup of steaming coffee. I held the mug in my hand, letting its warmth sink into my skin. “Thank you so much.” I smiled at him and he looked at me warily. I drank the coffee, standing near the fire, and finally started to feel warm again.
He kept watching me. “What were you doing out on the road in a snowstorm?”
His gaze was almost searing, and I knew the best course of action was to tell the truth. “My father’s dirty work.” I tried to keep my expression bland but I doubt I was successful.
His eyes narrowed. “What sort of dirty work?”
I really hated to do this and I felt my stomach tighten. “My father sent me here to tell you that he’s selling the property and that you need to find another place to live.”
Whatever reaction I was expecting – yelling, a physical attack – it certainly wasn’t what I got. He stumbled back and collapsed into the chair near the fireplace. “Are you all right?” He looked like he’d just fallen ill, his face pale, and he appeared short of breath.
It took a few minutes, but he seemed to regain his composure and the color started to come back into his cheeks. “Yes, I’m fine.” I shook my head and cursed my father lightly under my breath. “I take it you don’t agree with him?” he said.
Anger welled up inside me. “No. I remember visiting here with my grandfather and I always hoped this land would be part of my inheritance. I mean, a developer will just build homes and destroy the beauty. I was hoping to live here and write in peace.” Damn my father. “Besides, your family has obviously been here for a long time; it’s not fair to make you leave your home. Hell, I know I wouldn’t want to go if it were mine.” My righteous indignation was getting the better of me and I thought it best that I leave, so I handed him the empty mug and walked back over to the door. “I won’t bother you anymore. I’ll just head back to the car and call a tow truck.” I started to pull on my boots. I got the first one on and was pulling on the second one when I felt a hand on my shoulder.
“You can’t go anywhere tonight. It’s too dark for you to make it through the woods. You’ll get lost.” I looked at him, not knowing what to do. “You can stay here tonight and I’ll get you back to your car in the morning. Besides, a tow truck won’t come out here at night in this weather. Even if you make it to your car, you’ll be stuck there all night.”
“Oh, but … my laptop is in the car along with my clothes.” He looked at me strangely, like he didn’t know what a laptop was. “The computer could be damaged by the cold.” I started to get dressed again. The hand was back on my shoulder.
“I’ll go to your car and get your things. I know the way blind.” His voice seemed so soft, so nice, and I turned to see him and found myself staring into his bright blue eyes. I couldn’t believe what was happening. I had been sent here to evict him, and he was being so nice. How in hell could I evict him? In that moment, I realized I couldn’t.
“Thank you.” He put on his outdoor clothes and I noticed that they all appeared to be made of animal skins.
When he was dressed, he said, “I won’t be gone long. Just sit down in front of the fire and stay warm.”
I handed him the keys to the car. “The computer is in a red bag.” He nodded and a minute later he was out the door. It only took him about fifteen minutes to return with my suitcase and the bag with my laptop.
He handed them both to me, stripped off his outdoor clothes, and went into the kitchen area and started cooking. “So why did your father send you to do his dirty work?”
I sighed. “I wish I knew. But in a way I’m glad he did. I got to meet you and maybe I can talk him out of selling.” I wasn’t too hopeful, but I figured I could give it my best shot. I mean, if this stranger could take me in during a snowstorm, I figured I could find my balls and talk to my father about keeping the land.
He continued working. “Do you really think you can?”
“I don’t know, but I’m going to try.” I suddenly remembered my manners and realized I hadn’t told him my name. “By the way, I’m Blayne. Blayne Mullen.” I extended my hand.
He smiled. “Roeder Hart.” He took my hand and shook it. I held it probably a little longer than I should have, but his hand felt so good in mine. I finally let go of his hand, and he went back to cooking. “I don’t have anything fancy.”
I smiled and watched him as he cooked. “Can I help?” I had never worked in a kitchen. At home our meals were prepared by the cook, so other than a quick snack I had never cooked anything in my life.
“Sure. Come over here and you can peel the potatoes.” Roeder showed me what to do and I peeled the potatoes for dinner. We both laughed at the mangled results of my peeling efforts. After the potato incident, Roeder told me to sit near the fire. We were still laughing as he banished me from the kitchen, so I sat near the fire and we talked while he made dinner. The time seemed to fly as he worked and soon dinner was ready. As he promised, it wasn’t fancy, but it was tasty, filling, and one of the best meals I’d had in a long time.
After dinner, I helped Roeder with the dishes and we sat in front of the fire. “What do you do here?”
Roeder seemed surprised that I didn’t know. “I harvest and help maintain the forest.” I must have looked puzzled because he continued, “I harvest the most mature trees and sell them to a mill. For every tree I remove I plant a number of the same variety on the land to replenish the one I cut down.” It sounded like hard and rewarding work. Other than my writing, I’d never produced anything in my life. “What do you do?”
“I’m a writer. I’ve had a number of novels and short stories published.” I felt sort of embarrassed, but continued, “I still live with my family and my stories are the first thing I’ve actually produced on my own.”
“It’s good that you live with your family. Where I come from, families live together most of their lives.” I described my family and told him about my brother, sister, and father. “What about your mother?”
“She died a few years ago, and I still miss her a lot. She was a bright spot in all our lives.” She had also been the one person who could reason with my father and help temper his moods. “What about your family?”
Roeder shrugged and became evasive. “I haven’t seen them in quite a while.” The writer in me figured there was a story there, but didn’t push.
I heard the wind whistling outside the cabin for the first time and I turned to look out the window, but of course I could see nothing. I turned back and watched the fire as it danced around the logs. Roeder yawned and then looked embarrassed. “I guess I’m getting tired. I only have one bed, but you can share it with me.”
My eyes traveled to the small bed in the corner of the room. It looked larger than a twin bed, but smaller than a double, and it was definitely smaller than my king-size bed at home. “Umm, maybe I should sleep on the floor.” I looked at Roeder almost shyly.
“The floor will be cold, particularly when the fire starts to die down.” His face was unreadable and I figured he was just being nice and I appreciated his kindness.
“Roeder, umm … you should know. I’m gay.” I looked closely at him to gauge his reaction.
Roeder got up from the chair, turned out the light, and started undressing. “So you’re happy, but what does that have to do with anything?” He obviously didn’t understand what I meant and he was now nearly naked.
“Roeder, being gay means that I like men, not women.” Roeder shucked the last of his clothes and paused as he considered the ramifications, and I tried not to stare as he looked back at me before crawling under the covers.
“That makes two of us,” he said matter-of-factly, and held up one end of the blankets as an invitation. I slipped out of my shirt and pants and joined him, naked, under the covers.