Saturday, August 1, 2009

Stocking Stuffers by Jenna Byrnes

After clearing the snow from his driveway, he went around back and shoveled an area for Tillie. He ate a quick sandwich and lay down on his bed for a half hour or so. Normal routine meant getting back to the store by two-thirty, so Shannon had time to pick up the kids from school. He'd work until seven, head over to pick up Tillie, and often stayed for dinner with his mom. It was a comfortable life, even if it was boring as hell. But he'd be damned if he'd tell Dean that. As far as the other man needed to know, Ben had the best fricking life on the planet.

He'd decided not to call his ex. There was nothing to come of their getting together, hashing out the last couple years and talking about where they went wrong. It was unnecessary, and he suspected it could be painful. Best to avoid the other man altogether.

Dean apparently had other ideas. When he called the store in the afternoon, Ben read the Caller I.D. on the phone and chose not to answer it. He thought he'd escaped cleanly as he climbed into his truck later that night, until Dean stepped up behind him and grabbed the door.

"Must have been busy today. I tried to call a few times and you never answered."

"Really?" He acted surprised. "I'd better check the phone, make sure it's working, with the snow and all."

"Yeah, right." Dean looked at him. "You didn't want to see me."

With a sigh, he leaned back into his truck seat. "Not that I didn't want to, couldn’t. It still hurts, Dean. After all this time, I can't believe that it still hurts to see you."

"We need to talk." Dean reached for his face, cupping his jaw in one hand.

"Oh, no." Ben pulled away. "The last thing I need to do is to be alone with you."

Dean chuckled and stepped one foot into the truck, their faces inches apart. "So you're afraid to be alone with me?"

"Oh, yeah." He sighed as their lips met in a kiss he could taste from memory. Feeling the strong mouth pressed against his, he almost relented and returned the kiss. When Dean's tongue nudged the seam of his lips, he jerked away. "Don't. I don't want this."

Dean ran one hand up his jean-clad thigh until he reached Ben's groin area, squeezing his growing erection. "Tell me again you don't want this."

Ben shoved the hand away, looking him firmly in the eye. "Okay. How about, I don't think we should do this."

Dean's face was still so close, he could feel his breath. "I hear you. But we need to talk. Can we get something to eat and just talk?"

"No, because we won't." He had to force himself not to return the kiss. The closeness was agonizing.

Dean backed away. "Yeah, we will. I'll promise to be on my best behavior and we'll talk. What do you say?"

Knowing it wasn't prudent but wanting it in the worst way, he gave in. "I've got some pretty good lasagna and some damn good beer."

"Great. I'll follow you, okay?" Dean smiled.

He couldn't smile back. Something about this felt like trouble. "Sure."

The blonde-headed man stepped out and closed the truck door. He got into his SUV and started it up.

Ben led the way to his house, fingers absently rubbing over his mouth. He knew inviting Dean over was a bad idea. He just couldn't seem to say no.

Pulling into his garage, he watched Dean park in the driveway behind him. The other man came in through the garage, stomping his feet along the way. Ben entered the house, kicking off his boots, and Dean did the same.

"Where's that Tillie?" He called loudly, glancing around the kitchen.

"She's at my mom's." Ben flicked on a light and shed his jacket onto the back of a chair.

"Oh, so we really are alone?" He tossed his sunglasses on the table and his coat on another chair.

Waving a finger back and forth, Ben shook his head. "You promised to be on your best behavior."

"That's not much fun." Dean smiled, taking a step toward him.

"You said you wanted to talk. If that was a lie, or that's changed, maybe you should just go now. It's been a long day." Ben didn't crack a smile. He was serious about keeping the other man at arm's length, and intended to stand his ground.

"Okay." Dean nodded, stepping back and removing his coat. "I do want to talk. You said something about beer?"

Ben opened the refrigerator and pulled out two beers. He handed one over and set one on the counter. He removed the pan of lasagna and prepared it for reheating in the microwave.

"So how are things?" Dean started the conversation, sipping his beer.

"Fine. Everything's good. Shannon's youngest just turned three. Ruby. You should see her, she's a little beauty. Oh, and Renee Walden—remember her from high school? She got married last year, and they just had the cutest little baby boy."

"Nice." Dean rolled his eyes. "I wasn't actually inquiring about the population growth of Mabel. I wondered how you are. How have you been?"

Ben looked at him squarely. "By that do you mean, am I seeing anyone? Nope, as far as I know, Mabel doesn't have any other gay men. I'm still unattached."

Dean leaned his hip against the counter. "There's always the city. I wondered if I'd ever run into you in one of the gay bars we used to frequent."

"That part of the city is a good two hours from here. Not exactly my idea of a fun night, driving two hours to get to a bar."

Shrugging, Dean replied, "My thoughts exactly. That's why I wanted to live there, so we'd have more access to the social scene. The city's great. No one knows you're gay, and if they find out, they don't care. It's no big deal there. Not like that lady cop today—" He slapped the side of his head and mimicked, "Oh yeah, you're one of them! Why didn't you tell me?"

"She didn't mean it like that." Ben took a swig from his bottle. "Believe it or not, nobody here cares if I'm gay, either. Everyone knows it, and it's just not a problem."

"Except for finding dates. Next thing you'll be telling me is that you go to the movies with Wayne."

The microwave timer dinged and Ben set his bottle down. He removed the casserole dish and served lasagna onto two plates. Carrying them to the living room, he called over his shoulder, "Grab a couple napkins and my beer, will you?"

"You got it." Dean did as asked, and the men sat at either end of the sofa.