“CURTIS? Do you think Daddy’s happy?”
Curtis Harrell turned from the turkey he was stuffing to look at the ten-year-old peering at him across the table. Her dark-brown hair was pulled back tight and her big brown eyes were filled with deep concern. “What makes you ask that, Bee?”
Bianca shrugged and looked away for a moment. “I don’t know.”
Curtis raised an eyebrow. There was never a time that Bianca didn’t know why she was asking anything. “Come on, Bee. Out with it.”
She made a face and blew out a puff of air. “He should have a boyfriend, don’t you think?”
Curtis stopped stuffing and flexed his sticky hand. This he had not been expecting. Bianca, interested in her father’s love life? He supposed he should be grateful she was so casual about the gay thing and that she had no fantasies about her father finding her a new mom.
Truth to tell, Curtis did worry about Gavin. It made him sad there was no one special in his best friend’s life. “Maybe he’s not ready.”
“What’s he not ready for?” She bit her lower lip. “It’s been a long time since Voldemort ran off.”
Curtis tried not to laugh at Bianca’s nickname for Gav’s ex. Voldemort—Steve—had vanished one day while Gav was at work. Gavin had been frantic with worry, only to discover the creep had run off with the owner of The Watering Hole, a semi-popular Kansas City hangout. Neither Curtis nor Gav had gone to the bar since. That had been almost two years ago.
“I never liked that freak, anyway,” Bianca added.
Curtis hadn’t liked the guy much either. Steve had been gorgeous, there was no doubt about that. But the man had always felt fake to Curtis. He certainly hadn’t been very… intellectual. Curtis suspected it was Steve’s Olympic accomplishments in the bedroom that had kept Gavin interested more than any other reason. And hell, why not? But it was just that Curtis felt his friend deserved more.
“Your dad’s busy, honey. He works hard for his money.” Gavin did too. He worked a full-time shitty job (plus as many overtime hours as they’d allow) to support himself and his daughter. “Why else do you think he’s not here helping us get dinner ready?” Curtis asked.
Bianca sighed and rolled her eyes. “You think that damned job is going to let him go home early? Who has to work on Thanksgiving anyway?”
Anyone who worked Thursdays at RMMS, Gav’s shitty place of employment, Curtis thought. The place was open 365 days a year and Gavin worked Thursdays, so he always worked Thanksgivings.
“Don’t swear, Bee,” Curtis said.
She rolled her eyes again. “All I said was ‘damned’.”
“Nevertheless,” was his only answer.
Bianca pouted. It only made Curtis grin. She was too old to pout and he told her so.
She humphed in reply and, humming “Jingle Bells” under her breath, began to open cans to make the green bean casserole.
God, Curtis loved that little girl, in many ways wished she were his own. But she wasn’t. All he could do was hope he found the right woman so that one day he could have a child. One day! It had better happen soon. He was already thirty.
Curtis shook his head. “It’s going to be a great day one way or the other,” he told Bianca. “We’ll have a big wonderful dinner no matter what.”
“I wish you weren’t straight,” Bianca said suddenly.
Curtis let out a bark of surprised laughter. “Why is that?” he asked.
“Because I love you. And you and Dad would be a great couple. You’re already best friends. I think it would be cool having you as my other dad.”
Nope. Bianca harbored no wishes that her dad would meet “the right woman.” Curtis shook his head. “You come up with the craziest stuff, Bee.”
Bianca turned back, scrutinized him. “You are straight, right?”
Curtis leaned on the table and propped his chin in his hand—too late realizing it was the one that had been stuffing the turkey. “Shit.”
“No swearing,” Bianca cried.
With a snort, he stood and grabbed a towel and wiped at his chin. How did he answer her? So complicated. “Straight enough,” was the answer. But instead he said, “Have you ever seen me date a dude?”
“I haven’t seen you date a girl in forever!”
“What about Caitlin?”
Bianca grimaced. “Please.”
Well, yeah. He deserved that. He tried another. “Susan?”
Bianca flicked her hand, not even honoring the name with a comment. To be fair, Susan wasn’t really worth it. Not that she was a bad person, she just wasn’t his type. Whatever that was. He’d yet to discover that.
“And you better not say Alison either,” Bianca stated flatly.
“You keeping tabs?” Curtis started to run his fingers through his hair, and remembered at the last second that a sticky chin was bad enough.
“Yes,” she said with a toss of her head.
“Then how can you say I’m not dating?” He began to stuff the turkey again. He’d finished the chest cavity and was now filling the neck.
“’Cause you never date them twice.”
“What about Alison?”
Bianca flipped a piece of onion peel at Curtis. “I told you not to mention her.”
“Hey! No throwing food!”
Bianca threw a piece of eggshell.
Curtis flapped his hand and bits of stuffing flew at Bianca.
“Stop throwing food,” he repeated.
Bianca sighed again and flounced onto a kitchen chair.
“Do you think Dad is hot?”
Curtis coughed, nearly choked. “Hot?”
She nodded. “I mean, why doesn’t anyone ask him out? He’s not ugly, is he? I was in the laundry room yesterday and heard Preston telling his sister that Dad’s hot when he didn’t think I was listening.”
Preston, the skinny little florist who lived two floors down, thought Gavin was hot?
She shook her head. “It’s hard to tell when it’s your own dad,” she said.
Curtis cleared his throat. “Well… ah, I don’t know if I’m the best person to ask.”
“Because you’re straight? Come on, Curtis. You can admit another guy is hot, can’t you? I think Taylor Swift is hot. You don’t have to want to bang him!”
Bang? Had Bianca really just said “bang”? Curtis cleared his throat. Gavin, hot? The image of Gav came to his mind. Slim, nicely built, athletic, dark-blond hair, shining blue eyes, sweet smile, and…. Oh hell. Why not admit it? “I… ah… he’s a good-looking man. I suppose if I dated guys, I’d ask him out.”
Bianca sighed as only a ten-year-old could. “But you don’t. Dammit.”
“Bee. What did I say about that?” Curtis shook his head and turned to the sink, started the water with his elbow, and began to wash his hands. “Why are you suddenly worried about your dad having a boyfriend?” he asked over his shoulder.
“Teacher was asking us the other day what we wanted for Christmas, and I only had to think about it for ten seconds. I want Daddy to get a boyfriend. Since you’re too uptight to snap him up, then we got to find him someone.”
“We?” Curtis spun to face his best friend’s daughter. “No. No way.”
“Curtis, you gotta help,” she said, eyebrows furrowed. “Santa won’t.”
“Santa?” Did ten-years-olds still believe in Santa Claus?
“Yesterday Daddy took me to the mall, and Santa was there. I figured it was just some fat guy with a fake beard, but when we walked by I saw he looked like the real thing. His clothes were all smudged and his big beard was real. Daddy asked me if I wanted to get my picture taken, and I didn’t really, but I wanted to talk to him. So we waited in line and I got in his lap and he smelled like tobacco. But it was nice and not like cigarettes, you know? So I asked him to get Daddy a boyfriend.”
Curtis started coughing. She did what? “You—you asked Santa to get your Daddy a boyfriend?” Boy, what had the man thought about that? “What did he say?”
“He said slavery was illegal and he couldn’t get Daddy a person! So I told him I wanted a Project Runway Make-Up Set.” She rolled her eyes.
Curtis tried not to laugh.
“So you see, you gotta help me!” she exclaimed.
“I told you,” Curtis said. “There is just no way I’m doing that.”
“Why not? You know a lot of gay men. Almost everybody in this building is gay.”
Which was true. The Oscar Wilde did have a high percentage of gay renters. The few straight women in the building were always sure to remind Curtis how happy they were that he was available. The problem was he didn’t find any of them appealing. They were too skinny or too soft or their breasts were way too big to be believed.
You better hurry up and pick a type, his inner voice advised him, or you’re going to be ninety before your kids graduate.
“It doesn’t matter,” Curtis said.
Bianca’s eyes grew wide. Sorrowful, even. “Why not? Do you want him to be alone another Christmas?” she asked piteously. “No one to cuddle with in front of the fireplace?”
“You don’t have a fireplace,” Curtis reminded her.
“No one to kiss under the mistletoe?”
“Look, baby girl. I think one of the biggest mistakes in the world is trying to set someone up. Especially a friend. It almost always ends in disaster. Remember it was your dad that introduced me to Alison.”
Bianca picked up a piece of celery, almost threw it, but stopped at the last second. “No mentioning Alison.” She popped the celery in her mouth.
“Okay. But get this idea out of your head. Right now. I am not setting up your dad. And that’s the last word.”
But when Curtis saw that look come over the face of the girl he almost thought of as a daughter, he wondered if it was. Bee could be very determined.
And she almost always got her way.