I don’t think I have ever done this before. I know I posted a first chapter already, but after some feedback, I realized I needed to make a change that was small yet impactful. In the original version of the story, Alex knows that the man he is with is married. In this revision, the man has told him he is divorced, and Alex believes him.

CHAPTER 1 – December 21st – Alex


From somewhere deep in the condo, otherworldly howls and shrieks rang out over the screaming guitars and growling vocals of Dee Snider urging all the faithful to come and adore the baby Jesus.

Alex ignored them both as he opened the oven door to get a better look at the thermometer stabbed deep into the center of what the guy at the butcher shop promised him was a pork roast.

Hot air blasted from the oven, instantly fogging up his glasses and burning his lungs.

The sound of glass shattering and dishes crashing to the floor was followed by the wild scrabble of claws on tile as two hairless Sphynx cats came tearing into the kitchen. Taking the corner at high speed, they skidded across the floor.

Calisse, Torvil!” Alex yelled as the white cat slammed into his ankles. On reflex, he grabbed the oven door to keep his balance. Yanking his now-burnt fingers away with a curse, Alex hopped gracefully over the black cat twining itself around his feet. “Dang it, Dean. What did you monsters do now?”

Bracing himself for the worst, Alex walked cautiously to the dining area of the small condo. The cats followed behind him, stopping in the doorway, tails twitching as if they were as surprised as Alex by the destruction.

What had a few seconds ago been a picture-perfect table set for a romantic dinner for two, was now a jumbled mess of tableware and scattered Christmas balls. It looked like the cats had finally succumbed to the lure of the tassels dangling from the edge of the table runner. He’d known it was a bad idea even as he had been setting the table. But it was his favorite one.

Alex sighed, put his hands on his hips, and turned to glare at the cats. Torvil shrank down, face wrinkling even more than usual, skinny tail wrapping around her legs. Dean pretended to be unconcerned, focusing his attention on grooming his non-existent hair.

“Yeah, I know it was you,” Alex said, scooping up Dean with one hand. “Bad kitty.” He grabbed Torvil with his other arm, kissing them both on the head. He tossed them gently on the bed in his bedroom, shutting the door before they could race back out. “It’s for your own good, idiots,” he said when they scratched and mewed piteously. “You want to get glass in your paws? I don’t think so.”

Smoothing down his Kiss the Cook apron—the classics never went out of style—he grabbed the broom and dustpan and headed for the table.

On closer inspection, the damage was minimal. Two wine glasses that he’d gotten at Crate and Barrel and some broken ornaments. The only real casualty was one of the dinner plates; it had broken cleanly in half.

“Aw, man.” He picked up the pieces, laying them gently on the table. The Furnival Maple pattern china had belonged to his great-grandmother. As a kid, he had adored the beaver and maple leaf patterned plates. His mother had surprised him by giving him the entire set to take with him when he moved to his first apartment after he’d retired from competitive figure-skating.

With this latest disaster, he was down to only three plates and no way to afford more, even if he could find some. The service was over a hundred years old. He probably shouldn’t even be using it. And he definitely shouldn’t be wasting it on Charles. But it wouldn’t be Christmas without his beavers.

It couldn’t be that hard to fix; maybe he could glue it.

At least he hadn’t lit the candles yet, so nothing was on fire. But if that were the case, what was that burning smell?

“Shit.” Alex ran back into the kitchen and yanked open the bottom oven door. The bread he’d spent all day making had a black crust.

Grabbing a potholder, he yanked the bread pan out of the oven and dropped it on the counter with a bang. “Sacrement. At least we tried, eh?” He looked to the cats for confirmation that he deserved at least an A for effort before remembering he had shut them in the bedroom.

After seeing how late it was, he checked the temperature of the lamb, gave the pots on the stove one last stir, and walked to the bedroom to get dressed.

Torvil and Dean slept on the bed. Curled up head to tail, they looked like a yin-yang symbol in a knitted Christmas sweater. Seattle wasn’t that cold even in mid-December, but it was damp and the hairless cats got cold easily.

Alex wished he could climb up next to them, slide under the covers, and watch Christmas movies instead of going through with this dinner. Making Christmas dinner for two wasn’t as much fun as making it for ten. He wished they could host a real dinner party, but Charles wasn’t out to his friends yet. Soon, he promised.

They’d met on a Disney cruise over the summer. Alex had been in the ice show. It wasn’t glamorous by any stretch of the imagination, but he’d had a fairly important role, the pay was decent, and he got free housing and meals for the length of his employment. Plus, beggars couldn’t be choosers, and Alex needed a job. It wasn’t as if being a top-ranked figure skater prepared you for much in the real world.

Those cruises were often packed with part-time fathers with more money than ideas on how to entertain small children over a long summer break. At first, Charles had been simply one more divorced dad hitting on him. It happened every cruise, thought Charles was much better-looking than most of them.

Alex wouldn’t say he had a fixation for daddy types, but he wasn’t immune to their charms. Plus the closer he got to thirty, the less he found he had in common with the perky early twenty-something crowd. He got tired just listening to them talk.

The more time he spent with Charles the more he liked him.

He’d been impressed that Charles was there alone with his two kids. A lot of the divorced dads with money brought a nanny or companion for the kids, usually one they were already boinking. Charles said he wanted to spend as much time with the children as he could. Allison, his ex-wife, didn’t let him have them very often.

Charles said he had divorced her because he couldn’t hide who he was anymore. He wasn’t ready to come out publicly yet because he was worried it would cost him some of his wealthier clients.

When Alex’s cruise line job had ended, he’d called Charles. Charles had been thrilled to hear from Alex, and before he knew it, Alex was settling down in Seattle.

In the meantime, Alex lived in the condo Charles had rented for him. It was much nicer than anything he could have afforded by himself. Too bad living off of someone else’s money wasn’t Alex’s favorite thing. It made him feel like a kept man. Especially since Charles didn’t spend much time there, claiming it was too far from his work, too inconvenient, and obviously he couldn’t stay over when he had custody of the kids. So mostly they spent their time together in the condo eating and having sex.

Charles would try to leave Alex some spending money that he always refused and whatever recent item of clothing he had bought for Alex.

Charles had kind of skanky tastes in clothes, but he really liked seeing Alex in the ones he picked out. Alex didn’t particularly mind, but the clothes were rarely the most comfortable.

His relationship with Charles was starting to feel more like a business arrangement than the start of something real. And it had felt so good at first. For the tenth time that day, Alex thought about breaking it off with Charles. Of course, when he did, he would be homeless. There was no way he could come up with first and last month’s rent and a security deposit for anything in this town.

“Time to get dressed, lazybones,” he said to the cats. He gave himself thirty seconds to sit on the bed and give the kitties some loving, and get some in return. He’d had the cats for longer than he’d known Charles, and got more love from them. Not that Charles was cold, he was just not around as much as Alex had hoped he would be.

As he stood in the walk-in closet that was bigger than his entire childhood bedroom and flipped desultorily through various skin-tight shirts and pants, he wondered how he had gone from Olympic gold to barely making a living.

He scooped the cat up. “We really need to find a new job.” He rubbed his face against the wrinkled forehead. Torvil wouldn’t care if they moved; she just wanted love and food. Maybe he should go to college. Maybe he should hustle for more coaching jobs.

Alex had a half hour before Charles was due for their early Christmas dinner. That gave him just enough time to re-set the table, finish cleaning the kitchen, take a quick shower, and figure out what to wear.

“No problem,” he said to the cats who had come into the closet with him and were currently exploring his shoes. “If I can do a triple axel dressed as a talking candlestick, I can do this.”

Flicking through the selection of clothes Charles had bought him, he settled on a pair of black leather pants and some designer silk shirt that probably cost more than the rent on his last apartment. Baby blue wasn’t his favorite shade—he preferred a darker teal blue—but Charles liked this the best. Said it matched his eyes perfectly.

Clean first, then shower.

He turned the television on before he went back to the kitchen. The giant monstrosity took up half the wall in the living room and was visible from almost every room in the condo.

It would not have been Alex’s first choice for the focal point of any room. But you didn’t look a gift condo in the mouth, and Charles had bought the model unit, saying he didn’t want to have to shop for furniture.

He pulled up the Thunder game, checking the score as he caught up to the live broadcast. The Thunder were ahead three-two over the Tampa Bay Lightning in a home game.

He loaded up the dishwasher while he listened with half an ear.

“Oh my god,” the announcer yelled. “What a save! That’s one we’re going to be seeing on highlight reels for years.” The crowd roared and banged on the plexiglass.

Alexei hurried into the living room to catch the replay just in time to see Sergei Pergov, Thunder starting goalie and Alex’s best friend, dive backward from a butterfly position, his stick arm outstretched. Flipping onto his stomach, he scooped the puck out of the net a hair’s breadth before it crossed the goal line, and then leaped back to his skates in time to stop the rebound.

“Hell, yes!” Alex whooped. “That’s what I’m talking about.” He turned to the cats, who were prowling across the back of the couch. “Do you see that kids? See what Uncle Sergei did?” He picked up the remote and pointed it at the screen. “Let’s watch it again.”

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