Authors: Kate Sherwood
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and events are either the product of the author�s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, businesses, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
One Bright Star
Copyright � 2012 by Kate Sherwood
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without the written permission of the author, except where permitted by law.
eBook ISBN: 978-0-9881530-2-8
“It’s a Christmas tree.” Dan waited for the baby to process the idea, or the words, or the image… whatever it was that was keeping his eyes so wide and alert. “They’re fairly harmless. And this one is anchored so tight it wouldn’t move if a hurricane came through, so you can touch it if you want.”
“He’ll be climbing it by lunchtime.” Evan’s voice was affectionate and only a little boastful, and Dan leaned back into the warmth of a strong, broad chest.
“More likely that he’ll be eating it,” Jeff warned. “I told you about the lemon.” He had one arm around Evan, the other hand resting on Dan’s shoulder.
“Just get him to stop looking like
going to eat
,” Tat instructed. “I want to call this picture
Robbie’s First Christmas
Robbie’s First Panic Attack
Dan jiggled the baby a little, and reached his own hand out to touch the needles of the tree. “See, RJ? Just a tree. You’ve seen trees outside. This one’s in a weird place, though. And the ornaments are new, right? You don’t usually see ornaments on trees.” Dan tweaked one of the shinier baubles, and the baby watched in fascination as it moved.
Tatiana was snapping away wildly, taking her self-assigned responsibilities as the family’s photographer as seriously as she always did. “Good candids,” she said. “I’m getting some good shots, here. Dan, can you turn just a little more toward the camera? Angle your head down a little?”
“I think they stop being ’candids’ when you start making me twist around like a pretzel.” But Dan did as he was told. In his worst moments of insecurity, he thought of Tat’s many photo sessions as a way to collect evidence.
he’d tell future RJ in the midst of whatever crisis the boy was suffering through.
See how much we loved you? See how we’d have done ANYTHING for you? We still will—just tell us what you need!
He shook his head to banish the thoughts. The baby would be fine. Evan and Jeff wouldn’t let Dan screw him up.
“Okay, he looks happy again,” Tat decided. “You guys get all posed up for the portrait.”
“And you get your butt over here to be in it,” Jeff said firmly. “A family portrait needs as many family members as possible in it.”
“That’s what the camera’s timer is for, Tat,” Evan prompted.
“I want a few with just the boys,” Tat said firmly. “I’ll be in the ones this afternoon, with Anna and the rest.”
Great. Just one more thing to worry about. Maybe Dan wasn’t just going to ruin RJ’s life; maybe he was pushing Tat out of her family, as well. But Jeff was the one who would normally pick up on something like that first, and he merely said, “Get a couple with Dan and Evan and the baby, too. Lots of variations.”
“Fine.” Tat agreed absent-mindedly. “Now, smile! This is Christmas, not a firing squad!”
When Tat was finally satisfied, Dan stepped forward, RJ outstretched toward her. “I’m already really late,” he said. It was only a slight exaggeration. “Can you feed him? Evan ends up with more food on the walls than in RJ’s mouth, and Jeff seems to think it’s a good idea to give lemons to babies.”
“I expected better from
, but that’s probably the best you’re going to get from Evan,” Tat said as she accepted the offered child. “Cereal and fruit and yogurt?”
“He doesn’t seem to get sick of it,” Dan agreed. “I’m just chauffeuring, so I shouldn’t be more than a couple hours.”
“Chauffeur and couples therapist,” Evan said with a smirk. “It might take you longer than you think.”
Dan ignored him and headed for the door. He was going into this with a positive attitude. But he couldn’t deny that he was braced for anything.
“I don’t have to go,” Ryan said gently, for about the tenth time in Dan’s hearing. Who knew how many
times he’d offered when Dan wasn’t around. “I’m fine here.”
“And I’m fine with you coming,” Chris insisted. “I want you there. I want you to meet them all.”
Dan kept his eyes on the road and tried to ignore how tightly-wound Chris sounded. It was no wonder Ryan was having trouble believing the words, given the manner in which they were delivered. Chris had been tense for days, and it was so out of character that it was actually worrisome.
“It’s a big family thing,” Ryan said. “Maybe it’d be easier if I met them at a smaller event, or something. You said your parents were planning to come out in the new year—should we just hold off until then?”
“Are you trying to back out, now?” Chris asked. “Because I’m not. I want this to happen.”
And Dan had been quiet long enough. This was Chris, after all. “I want it to happen, too. In case anyone cared. Ryan, I really, really want you to make out with him under the mistletoe. In front of Grandpa Travis.” He glanced toward Ryan’s spot in the backseat and grinned. “The old bastard used to have coughing fits whenever Justin even looked at me, or touched me on the shoulder or something. Now, his own grandson has gone to the Dark Side? Fuck, it’s going to be beautiful.”
“There’ll be no making out in front of Grandpa Travis,” Chris instructed quickly. “It might kill him.” He pretended not to hear Dan’s quiet, gleeful agreement.
“I don’t really plan to make out with you in front of
family members,” Ryan said firmly.
“You’re still staying in a hotel, right? The whole ’the house is too full already,’ line worked?” Dan asked.
“It’s a Christmas miracle,” Chris said, “but, yeah, so far, it’s working.”
Best not to wonder about that too much. Would the Foster clan have been so willing to allow one of their members to self-banish if he was bringing home a
lover for the first time? And if Dan had thought of that question, then Chris had certainly thought of it, too. Had Ryan? Maybe not. The man was so laid back he was practically comatose, and there were times when it was a definite advantage. It must be nice to be able to turn his brain off like that.
They pulled into the domestic departures area at the airport and Dan swivelled to face Ryan. “Last chance, man. Evan’s resurrected some crazy Polish tradition of setting an extra place for unexpected visitors at big meals… he’d love it if someone actually took him up on the offer.”
Chris was already climbing out of the car, and Ryan smiled in his general direction. “Thanks, but I guess I’ll see this through.” He lowered his voice. “He
already told them, right? I mean, he’s acting weird…”
“He told them. I wasn’t there, but there’s no way he’d lie about that.” It was Dan’s turn to look toward Chris, now pulling bags out of the trunk of the car. “I think maybe it’s just that it’ll be more real, if you’re actually there? I don’t know, but I guess telling your parents that you’re bisexual and involved with a man is a bit different than having them
you with a man?” Dan shook his head. “But I’m just guessing.”
“And that’s the weirdest part.” Ryan pushed his door open as he said, “If
don’t know what Chris is thinking, who the hell does?”
“Probably not Chris.”
“Yeah, probably not.” Ryan climbed out of the car and leaned down to say, “It’ll be fine. But thanks for the offer.”
Then Chris’s head appeared at the open passenger-side window. “Four fifteen on Friday, Danny. Got it?”
“I’ll be here.”
“Did you write it down somewhere?”
“So how’re you going to remember?”
“When you text me seventeen times to remind me, I’ll save one of those messages.”
“That’ll work.” Chris started to straighten, but stopped and bent down again when Dan said his name.
“Chris, you’re okay, right? And you’re going to look out for Ryan? I know he’s not someone you usually have to worry about, but… he deserves to be taken care of a little. You’re going to do that?”
Chris nodded. “I am,” he said seriously. “Absolutely.”
“Okay, then. Merry Christmas. I’ll see you on Friday. Sometime in the evening, I think…”
Chris shook his head and stepped away from the car, then took Ryan’s hand as they walked into the airport together.
Dan watched them until they disappeared into the crowd. They seemed fine. Chris was being weird, but that wasn’t too unusual, really. They’d be okay. Everything would be okay. Dan forced his body to relax, just as he would if he were riding a skittish horse. But just as on a horse, it was easier to control his muscles than it was to control his brain. Everything
fine, but that didn’t necessarily mean that it
fine. He’d had unpleasant surprises before, after all.
Anna’s car was already parked in the driveway by the time Dan got home, and Robyn was pulling up in front of the house just as Dan did.
“Another Christmas at the grand manor,” she said in greeting. “I thought you guys were moving. Trying to make a home for all three of you, instead of living at Evan’s?”
“We’re still looking,” Dan said defensively. “It’s not easy to find the right place.”
“Not easy to find a place nicer than this, that’s for sure.” She grinned as she pulled a covered dish out of the back of her car. “Tell the truth, Danny. When’s the last time you guys even
at a house?”
It had been a while. Quite a while. Robyn was right, it
hard to find anywhere better than the Kaminski estate. And somehow the issue of actual home ownership had seemed a bit strange, once RJ had taken over the house the way he had. With baby paraphernalia spread over every square inch, it was hard to think of the place as a Kaminski preserve.
“When’s the last time you were at your apartment?” she persisted. “Are all your clothes over here, now?”
Well, that had just made sense. Evan had hired a team of experts to babyproof the house beyond any reasonable level of safety, and taking RJ from that to Dan’s apartment seemed almost reckless. And where the baby was, Dan was.
“Has Robbie ever
spent a single night
at the apartment? Or at Jeff’s place?”
“Okay, I get it.” He’d done the one thing he hadn’t wanted to do; he’d let himself become dependent on Evan’s generosity. He was a kept boy. It was scary how easily he’d let himself slip into the role, how horribly his instincts for self-preservation had let him down. Even now, with Robyn pointing things out in what she must have thought was a playful manner, Dan wasn’t really freaking out, even though he knew he should. He’d gotten complacent, somehow. He needed to do something about that. But first, he needed to get inside and see RJ.
He refused to acknowledge Robyn’s smirk as he punched the code into the door panel and let them into the house; he wasn’t going to stand on the steps like an idiot waiting for someone to answer the door, just to prove a point. He led the way to the kitchen, where he knew everyone would be, and flopped down on the floor next to the crawling baby. “Hey, buddy! I was gone for more than two hours! What’d ya do? What’d ya learn?”
“He can play the piano now,” Evan said seriously.
“And ride. No jumping yet, but his flatwork is solid,” Jeff added.
“Aw, damn, RJ.” Dan scooped up the baby and rolled over onto his back, holding RJ in the air above him. “I wanted to teach you to ride. Did Daddy Jeff do a good job?”
“Is that what you’ve decided on?” Anna asked. “’Daddy Jeff’? ’Daddy Dan’ and ’Daddy Evan’ too?”
“Mom, we can’t even figure out what
name is,” Jeff protested. “Robbie, RJ, Robert… I kind of like ’Bob,’ myself.”
“We’re trying out the different dad names,” Evan said more seriously. “We were thinking about all being uncles, but then how do we distinguish between an uncle who’s really a dad and an honorary uncle, like Uncle Chris?”
“And one of you really
Robyn mused. “Maybe different versions of ’dad’. Like daddy, and papa, and father…”
“But who’s going to be ’father’?” Dan asked. “That should be the disciplinarian, right? And we’re kinda screwed in that area.”
“You’re the closest,” Jeff said. “You’re the only one of us who ever says ’no’ to him about anything.”
“Yeah, I say, ’no, you shouldn’t keep eating that lemon, since you so clearly find it way too sour.’ I’m a real hardass.” Then Dan realized that something was missing and looked around the room. “Hey. Where’s Martin?”
Anna snorted in disgust. “He’s putting the ’Christ’ back in ’Christmas’.”
Dan looked cautiously toward Jeff. “What does that mean?”
“Church,” Anna replied. “I said midnight mass was a lovely tradition. I said I’d love to go. He said, no, not
at midnight. He’s found some place that has a whole day’s worth of services set up, today
tomorrow. I said it was too much for me, and he said he’d pray for my soul.”