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The 42 Days of Christmas Series from MLR Press continues and today I’m posting an excerpt provided by Barry Brennessel!
Elijah’s previous holiday season was a disaster. This year, he’s determined to give a surprise gift that he prays will erase the lingering bad memories. But his idea catches the attention of March—an attractive, mysterious man who is bent on stopping Elijah in his tracks. Both men are determined to fight for what they want, but they soon find they are also fighting their growing feelings for one another.
Will Elijah be able to deliver his gift, or will March forever alter the spirit of the holidays?
The bar on Madison Ave was a dimly lit, wood-paneled affair, with only a few patrons milling about. Not surprising, given that it was an early Tuesday afternoon. Kitschy Christmas decorations adorned the walls, doorways and windows: annoyingly jolly cardboard snowmen, silver and green garlands, plastic reindeer. Yet another rendition of “Here Comes Santa Claus” blared from the six speakers situated around the place.
“Hiya,” the bartender said as he twirled a hand towel over his head then tossed it into a plastic bin of glasses behind him. Standard young and muscular mixologist, as they were calling them these days.
“Good afternoon,” March said.
“What can I get for you?”
March looked around. No sign of him yet. “Do you have Boodles?”
“Do I have…?”
“Nah. We got Tanqueray, Beefeater, Hend—”
A wide variety of ales was always available at these clubs, but the mixed drinks were rarely inspiring. “I’ll have an Arrogant Bastard. You can determine the level of irony.”
The young man chose not to comment as he opened March’s bottle of beer and slid it over to him.
March had tried to convince himself that going to see Bret Evans earlier had been in the interest of honing the boy’s developing visionary talents. But when he asked Bret to locate Elijah Liepa yet again, March felt a pang of guilt. Spying, stalking, eavesdropping…he had probably reduced himself to that and more.
“A red building on Madison,” Bret had told him, flipping up his mop top of blond hair, and jiggling his leg as so many antsy teen boys tend to do. “With a black door. A bald guy on a stool outside. A rope, like they use at movie premiers. That red fake velvet kind of rope.”
Bret’s visions were becoming sharper, and lasting longer. But at fifteen, he was easily distracted, and his vocabulary still lacking.
“And an awesome ride out front! A GTO! Aw, man, March, you should see—”
“Ahhh. I lost it.”
At least the boy had pinpointed where Elijah Liepa had gone for the afternoon.
“That’ll be $6.99.” The bartender’s voice sliced into his thoughts.
“For the Arrogant Bastard.”
“Oh, yes. Right.”
March knew he would garner looks as he wandered the floor: his dark hair slicked back; the long leather coat; his angular face. Had he any interest, he could take home any number of men. His plate was too full these days, however, to think about any of that. And truth be told, he’d rather have wandered around the place secretly, in the shadows, drawing no attention. There was little alternative, however. He had to scan every form. It surprised him that of the eight men, not one was Elijah Liepa. Could Bret have been wrong? Or had Liepa been and gone?
His answer came in the form of a squeezed arm. March turned.
“I warned you about following me.”
March stared at Elijah’s face. He was willing to wager that he, too, could have his pick of men to go home with. He seemed even more strikingly handsome than March remembered.
“Please, Mr. Liepa, let’s keep our cool. I want to have a calm, rational discussion with you. That’s all.”
An unknown crooner belted out “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” with some electronic accompaniment. March winced. He wished they’d turn off the infernal holiday racket. He took a measure of pride at having been friends two centuries ago with a writer by the name of Charles Dickens. March was convinced he himself was the model for Ebenezer Scrooge, but that Dickens had done him the disservice of turning the fictional crank into both an unattractive geezer and a soppy mess at the end.
“Not a fan of the holidays?” Elijah asked him. The man must have noticed the pained look on his face.
“Not particularly. No.”
“It’s my favorite time of year,” Elijah said. He paused. “At least, it used to be.”
March glanced down at the half-empty glass in Elijah’s hand. “May I buy you another drink? And then perhaps we can sit in a quiet corner and have a chat.”
Elijah’s eyes danced left and right. He glanced up at the ceiling, then looked directly at March. “Okay. I’ll give you ten minutes.”
“What’s your poison?”
“Vodka martini. Up. Onions on the side. I’ll grab a table.”
* * *
Elijah studied March as he walked over to the table. The man looked like he belonged on stage. Or in a classic horror movie.
“Here we are then. Vodka martini.”
March placed the drink before Elijah. He sat down, crossed his legs, and raised his bottle of beer. “Cheers.”
Elijah lifted his glass. The men toasted. Elijah focused on March’s lips as he sipped his beer. Elijah vowed he wasn’t going to dwell on March’s striking features. How could a man be that handsome and not seem aware of it?
March leaned forward and lowered his voice. “Now then, Mr. Liepa. Here is my theory.”
Elijah’s first reaction was to move away; to keep March out of his personal space. But he stayed rigid. He wanted to be sure that he showed the man he would not be intimidated. “Your theory? About what?”
“Frankly, I’d have to be a bit of a twit to not have figured it out. You hope to do just as Viktor Griese did.”
Elijah couldn’t deny it. However, he wouldn’t give March the satisfaction of confirming the fact.
“There’s something you need to understand,” March continued. “As with everything in the universe, there has to be balance. Energy has to be compensated for. In order for something come out, something must go in to replace it. Understand?”
Elijah took a sip of his drink. “You’re an unusual man, March. What are you exactly?”
“What am I? I can think of a more polite way to phrase that question.”
“Don’t pull the Old World manners shtick on me. I want to know how you know so much about these…supernatural…things, and why you’re hanging around a group of kids that seem to have…powers or something.”
“Is it really any more shocking than some people of Latvian descent being able to see the spirits of their ancestors once a year? Or Native Americans using magic to heal the sick? Or any number of unexplained phenomena in any given culture?”
“Are you some kind of guardian of all these things? Some kind of law enforcement?”
“Not exactly. But I’m a man of logic who understands that if people toy around with—”
“Look, March. Here’s what you need to understand. All I’m trying to do…all I want…is to say a proper goodbye to someone.”