The habit of silence is hard to break.
Isolated by a cold and lonely past, David was on his own until Seth came along. Together they've forged a life full of love, friendship, and scorching hot sex. But just days before Christmas, David discovers a long buried secret that sheds new light on the father who rejected him.
The revelation dredges up painful memories and threatens to exile him to an icy land of silence. When Seth opens their home to a young man in trouble, David withdraws even more in a misguided effort to deal with his confusion and jealousy. The fact that the bookshop he's worked at since high school is in danger of closing just makes everything worse. Seth wants him to talk about his problems, but what good are words when they can't pierce his unresolved grief?
Seth is worried about David. Something's wrong and he won't talk about it. Day by day, he's closing himself off, and everything Seth does to try to reach him just drives them further apart. As the holiday's approach, both men will learn valuable lessons from unexpected sources, but the most important will be the secret to melting a frozen heart.
* * * * *
One thing Seth didn't like about the cafe kitchen was how hot it got, especially when he had the oven on. Between the biscuits baking and the big vat of venison stew bubbling on the stove, the little room was sweltering by ten thirty. Even stripped down to his T-shirt, he was sweating.
He opened the back door to let some air in. Across the alley, near the Dumpster, he caught a flicker of movement. A stray dog, startled by the sudden sound of the door, trotted away.
Poor thing. Probably scrounging for food. He made a mental note to put a bucket of scraps out when he was done fixing lunch.
The chilly December breeze felt like heaven. Refreshed, Seth returned to his lunch prep, but before long, the back of his neck prickled, and he sensed someone watching him. "Just go on about your business, Karine. I'll let you know when it's ready, and yes, you'll get a taste," he said, too absorbed in forming fritters to look up. There was no answer. That wasn't like Karine. He turned and found the doorway to the dining room empty.
That was when he saw the dog in the doorway to the alley. She sat on her haunches, watching him with doleful brown eyes. She looked to be some sort of pit-bull mix, with a large, broad head and heavy jaws. Her coat was short and russet brown, with a white blaze on her forehead, another on her chest, white feet, and a white tip on her tail.
"Hey, uh, I'm pretty sure it's a violation of the health code for you to be in here."
She licked her chops and stared at the stew bubbling on the stove then back at him.
Seth sighed. "You don't understand. My boss will have my hide if I start feeding you the food we're supposed to sell to our customers."
"Look, anything that doesn't get eaten, I'll put in this pail just for you, all right?" He hefted one of the plastic five-gallon buckets that their tofu came in.
She continued to stare at him.
"Okay, look, here. Maybe this'll tide you over until after lunch." He gathered some fat and bits of gristly meat he'd trimmed from the venison. “Here.” But when he started toward her, she jumped to her feet and snarled at him.
"Whoa!" Seth took a step back. "Easy there. Easy. I'm not going to hurt you. Look." He held the scraps out. "These are for you. You don’t have to take them from my hand, but you have to let me put them outside."
She sniffed the air, whined, and slunk out the door. Seth put the scraps in the bucket and placed it next to the Dumpster while she watched him from the cover of a pallet that leaned against a fence half a block away.
"Well, I guess you've got plenty of reasons not to trust people."
Where would he be now if it weren't for David?
He knew the answer to that. Out on the street with that dog, fighting her for those scraps of food. He'd been alone, hungry, and damaged when he and David met. Shattered by his experiences in the Pit, Seth had been plagued by nightmares and flashbacks. He had lived on the street because he had nowhere else to go, and he'd vowed never to return to the Pit. Even scrounging for food in Dumpsters and turning the occasional trick had been better than that.
But then he'd met David, and David had seen past the grime and the haunted expression. David didn't have any more reason to trust him than that dog did. He'd just been attacked by a gang -- nearly raped -- and Seth had put a stop to it by caving the leader's head in with an iron pipe. To this day Seth could only wonder what wonderful, reckless impulse had inspired David to invite him into his home after all that.
But he had, and he'd changed Seth's life forever. It hadn't always been easy, but the love between them had sustained them through Seth's posttraumatic stress disorder, his unemployment, and his illiteracy -- yeah, he was quite a catch. But David never cared about any of that. Even when Seth went against his wishes and went undercover to help the police shut the Pit down for good, David had stood by him. Now, all that was part of the past, and every day was a new opportunity to make the most of his good fortune.
As Seth chopped cilantro and mint, his mind wandered to his plans for the rest of the day.
David would stop by the cafe when he got done at the bookshop, and they'd go home. Seth had some leftover chili in the fridge for dinner. Even odds whether they’d eat first and then make love, or vice versa.
Seth grew warm at the idea of caressing David's smooth golden skin, of kissing him until they both were breathless. He could picture perfectly the pink blush that rose on David's cheeks and chest when he was aroused. His mouth watered at the notion of sucking David's beautiful cock, and the thought of David's needy moans made him so hard he --
Seth set down the knife and took a deep breath. He needed to focus. This was inappropriate work behavior. Not to mention that in his distracted state, he'd chopped way more cilantro than was needed.
Seth hated to waste food. It was one of the few nonviolent acts he considered inherently immoral. He wrapped up the extra cilantro in a damp paper towel, wrapped that in plastic film, and put it in the fridge. Tomorrow's breakfast special would be cilantro scramble.
To keep his mind off David, he forced himself to think about the thing next week. That took the wind out of his sails fast.
After the bust-up of the Pit, Seth had been assigned a therapist. Dr. Michaels worked with the other men who'd been inmates of the Pit too. Most of them lived in a group home, working on reintegrating into society.
Seth had been unsure about therapy in the beginning, but he liked Dr. Michaels, and after a few sessions, he found talking with him helped a lot. Now, less than a year since all that had happened, Seth was doing so well Dr. Michaels had asked him to come to the group home and talk to the other former Pit fighters.
David was against it, and Seth understood why. At first, he'd been hesitant too. Would the whole thing dredge up the past? And what could he tell them, anyway?
But Dr. Michaels assured him he didn't have to prepare a speech or anything. "Just be yourself and answer their questions honestly."
Thinking about those men reminded Seth of the dog. They'd all been dealt an unfair hand in life. He wanted to help, if he could.
"Here we go, Seth," said Yolanda from the doorway. "I got a table of five. Two stews, one fritter, a Basic Burger, and a Metro Club."
Seth was glad to set his thoughts aside and focus on the lunch rush.
And he put a quiet word in with Karine to save the table scraps for the dog.
Copyright © Jessica Freely