The deeply tanned handsome hunk charged out of the azure water. A bright-white banana hammock, leaving little to the imagination and plenty of expectation, performed its envied duty with a tease. Pausing on the sun-bleached sand with the ocean swirling in the background, the hunk raised his muscled arms to the sun, showing off gorgeous, dark tufts of hair. Then he turned, paused, and sauntered down the beach, his curvaceous, naked ass mesmerizing as it shifted from side to side.
Startled out of his lustful trance by a fat, lazy snowflake making a direct hit on the tip of his nose, Matt glanced around the tree lot. Large flakes were beginning to cascade down all around him, their plump, white bodies changing colors as they passed by the swooping strings of Christmas lights outlining the lot. Reluctant to say goodbye to the smokin’ hot video he’d been watching, he pocketed his phone and hurried into the makeshift plywood shelter. He glanced down at his watch—it was already past five. It wouldn’t be much longer, he thought as he pulled his phone back out and fired it up.
Wait… go back to the site with the über handsome dude. The one with those dreamy bedroom eyes.
Matt backed up his search until he found what he’d been looking for: St. Bart’s Hotties. He had no problem remembering where to navigate, and sure enough, his hottie was waiting patiently for his return.
Hello, Bart! My name is Matt. A sleepover? Sure, I’d love to!
Page after page showed the model in various swimsuits and poses both on the beach and off. Matt found himself gravitating back to one photograph in particular. It wasn’t the most revealing picture in the collection, but it was the most satisfying. There was something so familiar about that handsome face. Had he seen the model featured in a magazine?
The memory swooped in out of nowhere—there was a guy last year on the lot who took his breath away. He had eyes like the swimsuit guy’s. Matt remembered hating himself for days after—Emile had only been gone for a month.
This photo featured the model wearing a red Speedo and a white muscle shirt, lying on the wet sand. His body language invited Matt to snuggle up close. Closing his eyes Matt tried to imagine what it would feel like to be wrapped in the model’s warm, powerful arms. For now, fantasies like this were all he had. They were baby steps toward a process he still couldn’t bring himself to initiate.
Emile would be mad if he knew I was lonely and, because of his memory, not doing anything about it. He would never require this.
Matt was only starting to buy into this notion that life could move on. He knew this was important. Friends had begun to encourage him to start dating.
But it seems so soon.
Only a short year separated him from tragedy. His life had been shattered when he lost his partner of four years, Emile, in a car accident. Emile was thirty-three, several years older than Matt. He was killed on a late-November day, when another driver swerved into his lane, causing a head-on collision. Driving conditions were excellent and both cars were thought to be traveling the speed limit on the busy expressway. The other driver, married and a father of two, died several days later. It was still a mystery as to why his car left its lane and entered Emile’s.
Matt had spoken to Emile just minutes prior to the fatal crash.
“Hey, Matty, how are you doing?” Emile almost always called him Matty unless they were with people they didn’t know well.
“I’ll be a whole lot better when I see your smiling face.” Matt cherished his time at home with Emile. They rarely went out, choosing instead to enjoy one another in the comfort of their apartment.
“Have you had a chance to think about dinner?” Emile had asked.
“I’m making BLTs and I have some tomato soup warming.”
“Very good, Matty. If the traffic isn’t too heavy, I’m going to stop off and renew my driver’s license. I’ll be a few minutes late, so don’t worry.”
“Okay, sweetie, drive safe.” How ironic, Matt thought each time he replayed in his mind the last words they had shared.
Why hadn’t I insisted he come right home?
Handsome, loving Emile. Born in France, he had come to the US as a teenager when his father’s job required the family to transfer. With amazing clarity, Matt remembered the first time he met Emile. They both were attending the University of Minnesota. Emile was in his senior year, and Matt was just starting out. A party at a mutual friend’s had been the setting. Emile had come into the small apartment kitchen to refill a glass of wine, and in an instant, Matt was a goner. “It’s his voice, his accent that makes me crazy,” Matt remembered he had joked to friends shortly after they had started seeing each other, “And his looks aren’t bad, either—ooh la la.”
In some respects, the holidays this year were even more painful. Last year had been one big horrific blur. He barely remembered working the tree lot. A few select scenes were all he could recall. Several customers had expressed sympathy. It was always awkward. The enormity of his loss was both numbing and consuming.
Matt shook his head to clear away the all-too-familiar feeling of emptiness, a bittersweet remnant of Emile that had just upstaged “swimsuit guy.” He was starting to gain control of these sad spells. It took work to move on, and even though he recognized the healing process had begun, being without Emile every single day was an emotional roller-coaster he begged to be off.
What does swimsuit guy’s voice sound like? Those deep dark eyes, I bet it’s soft and sexy.
Staring down at the tiny image of the handsome man in the red bathing suit, he tried once again to imagine himself wrapped up tight in swimsuit guy’s strong arms. Oh, how wonderful it would feel to be loved again. Closing his eyes, he could almost feel those full, wonderful lips brushing behind his ear and down the back of his neck. A shiver ran through his body as he savored the moment.
I’m ready. I need someone in my life again. I’m not good on my own.
He was brought out of his fantasy by the familiar sound of his uncle’s truck. Matt stepped out of the shelter and waved as it entered the lot.
“Hello, sport!” his uncle greeted him with a wave. “Had enough of the tree-selling business this year?”
“Hey, Uncle Ken!” Matt slid his phone into his pocket.
Going back to his teens, Matt had always banked on working the tree lot for his uncle. In a way, Uncle Ken and his wife, Aunt Rose, were like a second set of parents, not having any kids of their own to spoil. Although working the lot required standing out in the elements most evenings for weeks leading up to the holiday, Uncle Ken made it well worth his effort.
“Here!” his uncle said, reaching into the backseat. “Hang this on the fence and let’s call it a season.”
Matt accepted a hand-painted sign that read, “All Trees Now FREE.”
“The cash from today, if there is any, is all yours. Bring the till with you tomorrow, and I’ll store it away until next year.”
“You sure? There was more action today than I thought there’d be.” Matt was careful not to abuse the generosity. As instructed, he hung the sign on the fence post.
“I’m sure. I’d just spend it on beer, and that would surely piss off your aunt.”
Matt laughed at his uncle’s remark. It was all a smoke screen. Aunt Rose would buy the beer herself if Uncle Ken asked her to.
“Oh, your dad called this morning. He and your mom are planning on showing up ’bout noon. Shoot for that, okay? Don’t be late if you know what’s good for you!” Uncle Ken shook his finger at him and winked. “Your auntie’s been cooking her heart out the last couple of days. She made that sweet-potato pie you can’t live without.”
“I’ll be on time, you can count on that!” Christmas and his birthday wouldn’t be the same without one of his aunt’s scrumptious sweet-potato pies. “Can I bring anything?” Matt already knew the answer but wanted to ask anyway.
“Just an empty stomach is all I can think of. You headed over to your parents’ tonight?” His uncle brushed a snowflake or two off of his bushy eyebrow.
Matt had to think about the right response. He’d already made the decision not join his parents for midnight service. He called his mother earlier in the day to beg off using the “college friend home for the holidays” excuse everyone knew was a crock of crap. With Emile gone, the family had, while still keeping an eye out, stepped back to allow him time to deal with his loss. Soon he’d have to find a way to thank them all for their patience. But tonight, he needed to be on his own. He’d thought about heading out to the bars. It could happen. He’d spent so much time on his own lately he’d almost forgotten how alive and energized it felt to be on a crowded dance floor, held captive by the pulsating music. Who am I kidding? Most likely he’d pick up takeout and hunker down in front of the television. His goal this holiday season—to keep the crying spells to a minimum. This was something he needed to work out by himself. Tonight, Christmas Eve, would be a special challenge.
“I’m thinkin’ I’d like to be on my own tonight.” Matt’s eyes dove to his feet, unable to make contact with his uncle’s. He couldn’t mask the guilt he felt for abandoning his family.
“Well, whatever the hell it is you decide to do, stay safe,” his uncle cautioned, minus his warm smile. “We could see three to five inches of this junk by morning, and remember, noon tomorrow and not a minute later.”
“Gotcha! Say hi to Auntie Rose!”
Matt waved as his uncle backed the truck out of the lot.