WILL CLOSED his laptop and tucked it into its case as the bus pulled in to the Montpelier bus station. It was a beautiful December day, with just a few clouds drifting through a bright-blue sky and clean white snow blanketing the Vermont countryside. Even here at the edge of town, the snow hadn’t yet become covered with soot and grime near the road. The dome of the state house down the street gleamed gold in the sunlight.
Unable to stop himself, Will scanned the cars in the parking lot, looking for his father’s old brown Ford pickup truck, or his mother’s small blue Subaru. Neither was there, but he hadn’t really expected them to be. It had been four years. They probably had new cars by now.
He stepped off the bus and breathed in the crisp, cold air, fresh-smelling even with the exhaust from the bus drifting by. But as the driver opened the baggage compartment in the bus’s underbelly and he collected his bags, Will couldn’t help but notice that there was still no sign of his parents. He didn’t want to admit that he was bothered by it. Any number of things could have made them late. Still a part of him had hoped to find them standing there, anxiously awaiting his homecoming. It was his mother, after all, who’d sent him the invitations, year after year.
He turned to see a young man standing there in a gray down jacket, a black baseball cap partly covering his strawberry-blond hair. The guy was perhaps a couple of years younger than Will, broad-shouldered and tall—though not as tall as Will’s lanky six foot two—with misty blue eyes. His full mouth was offering Will a shy, tentative smile. “I’m Ryan. Your mom asked me to pick you up. It’s good to meet you.”
Will tried not to frown as he stepped forward and shook Ryan’s hand. “Are you a new neighbor?”
“No, I rent a room from your folks.”
Will pulled his hand away abruptly and then tried to disguise the motion by reaching for one of his two suitcases. The house hadn’t had any spare rooms when he lived there. Just his parents’ bedroom and his room. Was he going to be sharing it for the weekend? Or were they expecting him to take the couch?
Will was carrying his laptop case over his other shoulder, so Ryan grabbed his second suitcase and led him to a maroon SUV parked behind the bus station. It didn’t look like the kind of car a guy in his early twenties would generally own, and as Ryan opened the hatch to stow the luggage, he commented, “My car is full of crap, so your mom told me to take hers.”
“Cool,” Will said, trying to hide his irritation that this stranger was on such familiar terms with his folks.
“She said to apologize for her not meeting you,” Ryan added, seeming to sense that something was wrong. “She’s just been stuck in the kitchen all morning, preparing for the party tomorrow night.”
“Ah,” Will muttered. “The party. That will be fun.”
Ryan slammed the hatch shut and gave him an odd look before leading the way to the front of the vehicle.
WHAT THE hell is this guy’s problem?
Ryan knew that Will hadn’t been home for the holidays since he left for college four years ago, but Gary and Diane had never said why. Now Ryan was beginning to suspect the guy was just an asshole.
He was cute—no denying that. Hot, even. Tall, with thick, dark-chestnut hair and brooding good looks, like the hero of a gothic romance novel. But so far he seemed just as unpleasant as those heroes tended to be. Whatever had made him turn his back on his family years ago, Ryan had a hard time believing it was anything his parents did. They were the nicest people he’d ever met, doting on him as if he were their own son, when his parents had kicked him out of the house.
Still, they were thrilled when Will e-mailed them that he’d deign to grace them with his presence this year, so the least Ryan could do was be nice to the guy for a few days. He wouldn’t be the one to ruin their Christmas.
“So…,” he said, fishing around for a topic of conversation while he navigated the SUV out of the parking lot and onto Main Street. “Diane tells me you’re a writer.”
Will was looking out the passenger side window at the shops along Main Street as they passed by, and he looked reluctant to turn his attention back to Ryan. “I’ve only published one novel. And it didn’t do very well.”
“What kind of stuff do you write?”
“Nothing you’d be interested in.”
Jesus. What the fuck was that supposed to mean? That Ryan was obviously too dumb to read anything but comic books? Ryan bit back an angry response and simply said, “I’m interested in a lot of stuff.”
Will turned to look at him full on, a sour expression on his face, and then said with exaggerated patience, “Do you read gay novels? Because that’s what I write.”
“Dude!” Ryan snapped. “What the fuck? Do you think I’m some kind of redneck country hick who can’t go to sleep at night without beating up a fag or two?”
Will didn’t look even remotely apologetic, but he said, “I didn’t say that.”
“I’m gay too,” Ryan went on. “I mean, I didn’t know you were, until just now, but—”
Rather than look happy that they’d found some common ground, Will practically snarled, “That’s just great.”
He turned back to the window again, and Ryan let him. Gary and Diane could deal with him when they got back. Maybe he’d be less pissy around them, though Ryan doubted it.