Holiday Story #1: On the Rocks

On the Rocks is now available from Dreamspinner Press for $3.99! It’s 73 pages and comes in the following formats: .epub, .prc, html, pdf.

For years, Mal has given Aidan a little piece of the world for special occasions in the form of unique rocks and fossils—until the year he gives Aidan a piece of the moon instead. Aidan has treasured every gift: in a world of impersonal relationships, they’re the one reminder he has that somebody out there cares about him for who he really is. Then through a twist of fate, their relationship goes beyond personal and into intimate, leaving Aidan shocked and set to run the other way. Despite his feelings for Mal, past experiences have convinced Aidan that he’s a failure at relationships, and he’s afraid to trust his heart. It just might take a Christmas miracle for Aidan to find the courage to love.

Have an excerpt!

AIDAN Grimm strolled into Ground Zero at twelve fifteen, unrepentantly late as usual, but he knew Mal would be waiting, and the aroma of freshly brewed coffee greeted him as soon as he walked through the door. As he finger-brushed his tousled dark hair into place, he glanced around and saw that Mal was indeed waiting for him at a two-seater window table.

“Sorry I’m late,” he said as he approached, which they both knew wasn’t true.

Dr. Malcolm Saltzman raised one eyebrow at him, blue eyes dancing with amusement. “I’m sure you are,” he replied. “What was it this time? Traffic jam? Stolen wallet? No, wait. You stopped to help a woman who’d gone into labor in the middle of the sidewalk, and the grateful parents are naming their new son after you?”

Aidan fixed him with a wide-eyed gaze, trying to look innocent. “All of the above. How’d you know?”

Mal chuckled. “You’re incorrigible. That look might fool some people, but not me. I used to watch you practicing it in the mirror.”

“The dangers of keeping you around so long,” Aidan replied, plucking a menu out of its stand. “I should get a pass on tardiness today anyway. Isn’t there a rule about that? If there isn’t, there should be.”

“Oh?” Mal frowned in puzzlement. “Today? What’s so special about today?”

Aidan gave him an aggrieved look over the top of the menu. “Oh come on. Don’t try to tell me you haven’t already arranged for a stupid cupcake with a stupid candle on it to be brought out later when I ‘least expect it’. Deny it, and I’ll call bullshit.”

Mal’s jaw dropped. “Your birthday! Geez, Aidan, I’m so sorry, but I completely forgot!” he said apologetically. “I only got back from Morocco day before yesterday, and I’m still jet-lagged. I’m afraid the date slipped my mind.”

Try as he might to maintain his facade of casual aloofness, Aidan couldn’t keep his expression from crumbling at that. It wasn’t just the shock of Mal forgetting his birthday, because Mal was the sentimental type who always remembered birthdays, or that he cared much about his birthday in general, because he didn’t. No, what bothered him most was that it meant he wouldn’t be adding anything new to his collection this year, and that disappointed him more than anything else.

When they were roommates at Cal Tech, Aidan had been fascinated by Mal’s rock collection. Mal, a geology major, had an amazing assortment of stones. When Aidan asked, Mal had told him the significance of each one, both scientifically and personally. Aidan had particularly liked a small, rough piece of black stone that Mal had called an Apache Tear. He’d told Aidan the legend of how they had been formed when a group of Apache warriors, fighting a losing battle, had ridden their horses off a cliff, and the tears of the warriors’ families had hardened into stone when they hit the ground.

Aidan had been intrigued by the stone, and that October, Mal had given it to him as a birthday gift. Mal had seemed surprised when he displayed it prominently on his desk, but after a lifetime of being given impersonal gifts with no thought behind them, that simple rock meant more to him than any gold Rolex.

After that, Mal had given him a rock for every Christmas and birthday. They’d been from his own collection at first, but when Mal had started doing field work, he gave Aidan rocks he found on his trips. Mal explained what the rock was and sometimes gave him a book as well if there was a particularly interesting story behind it. But there was always a rock, each one unique.

Mal never asked what he did with the rocks, and Aidan had never told him. No one else knew but his housekeeper, who was the only other person who ever saw the inside of his bedroom; he rarely took lovers home, and when he did, he took them to a guest room, not to his private sanctum. So no one ever saw the case he’d commissioned to display the rocks Mal had given him over the years; each one was placed in the order it was received with a note to remind him of what it was and where it had come from, and he always looked forward to adding a new one.

“It’s okay,” he said, trying to sound more nonchalant than he felt. The last thing he wanted was for Mal to realize how disappointed he was. “I’m surprised you haven’t run out of ideas by now anyway. Sometimes I’ve wondered if you’ve just been wrapping pebbles you found in your shoe.”

“Oh, you expected me to give you a rock?” Mal asked, his expression suddenly too innocent. “Wouldn’t you prefer something more special for your thirtieth birthday?”

“Like what?” Aidan asked, eyeing Mal suspiciously.

“Well, a rock is boring, isn’t it?” Mal reached into the pocket of his jacket and pulled out a small black box tied up with a silver bow. “I mean, if you can’t tell the difference between a pebble I picked up on a street and a two-hundred-million-year-old piece of fossilized wood….”

Aidan could tell the difference between every single piece in his collection without even looking at the notes anymore, including the piece of fossilized wood Mal had given him for his twenty-fifth birthday, but he wasn’t about to admit that aloud.

“You said you forgot! You probably lied about the cupcake too,” he exclaimed, barely refraining from reaching across the table and grabbing the box in his eagerness to see what was inside.

Mal grinned. “After you kept me waiting for fifteen minutes, I thought a little payback was in order,” he replied, sliding the box across the table.

“I knew it,” Aidan grumbled even as he picked up the box and tugged the ribbon loose.

On a nest of black velvet lay a brownish stone, roughly the size of a walnut, with odd white patches all over and a rough, pitted surface. It wasn’t as pretty as some of the rocks Mal had given him, but it was definitely unusual; Aidan had never seen anything like it.

He took a moment to examine it, admiring its unique appearance, and he glanced up at Mal, waiting for the origin story he knew was coming. “Are you going to tell me what the hell it is, or do I have to guess?”

Mal’s smile turned smug. “You hold in your hand, my dear Mr. Grimm, a piece of the moon.”

“Seriously?” Aidan couldn’t keep the amazement he felt from permeating his voice as he stared at Mal. “Where did you get it?”

“It’s the reason I was in Morocco,” Mal said, his eyes alight. “I went to find out if a meteor strike there was a lunarite: a meteorite that originated from the impact of an asteroid on the moon. When that happens, rock is sometimes ejected from the moon’s orbit, and eventually falls to earth. I verified its authenticity, and the owner gave me this piece. Now you can say someone’s given you the moon.”

Aidan removed the piece of moon rock from its box carefully and examined it closely to cover the surge of wistfulness he felt at Mal’s words. When Mal gave him one of those earnest looks, he felt a dangerous surge in his chest—a much higher location on his body than where he usually felt surges. It didn’t help that Mal was ridiculously appealing. Blond hair, blue eyes, and usually sporting two or three days’ worth of stubble that Aidan would have loved to feel rasping against his skin. Mal was far more outdoorsy than Aidan’s usual type, but no one was perfect.

It wasn’t even incompatible sexuality keeping them apart since Mal was gay too. No, Aidan had to squelch any wayward longings because Mal was his best friend. Hell, Mal was his only friend. Aidan didn’t like or trust most people; they flocked to him due to his illustrious family name and even more illustrious family fortune, and he loathed gold diggers and ass-kissers. Mal was the one person in the world whom Aidan was sure liked him for himself, not his money or social status, and he didn’t want to ruin that with sex because he sure as hell couldn’t sustain a relationship. After being burned one too many times, he’d limited himself to hookups that lasted no longer than a weekend.

So the one person from whom he wanted the moon and stars and everything else was the last person in the world who could give it to him—and yet he held it in his hands nonetheless. The closest to the moon and stars as he would ever get, thanks to Mal.

“Thanks,” he said, offering a small but genuine smile. “It’s really cool.”

Mal’s smile faded. “Should I have gotten you something more—” He paused, looking uncertain. “Normal?”

“No!” Aidan shook his head, closing his fingers possessively around the lunarite. “No, I mean it. It really is cool. Normal is overrated, and I’d much rather hold a piece of the moon in my hand.” He smiled wryly and shrugged, trying to think of something that would explain his bout of melancholy without revealing anything about the true direction of his thoughts. “I guess turning the big three-oh is hitting me harder than I thought. I’ve been moody all day.”

Mal placed one hand atop Aidan’s. “Hey, thirty is no big deal. You aren’t going to wake up tomorrow with wrinkles and gray hair.”

“Just promise that if I start to lose my boyish good looks, you’ll lie and tell me I haven’t,” Aidan joked as he valiantly tried to ignore the warmth of Mal’s hand on his.

“You look better every year,” Mal replied. “I wish you’d tell me how you do it!”

Aidan chuckled, but he was also pleased because he knew Mal meant it. Unlike most people Aidan was surrounded by, Mal always told him the truth even if he didn’t always want to hear it.

“If you want my beauty secrets, it’s going to take more than a moon rock to pry them out of me,” he replied.

“I tried!” Mal squeezed Aidan’s hand before releasing it. “At least you’re smiling again, which is how it should be on your birthday, especially when you’re handsome, rich, and brilliant.”

“All that, and I have a new rock,” Aidan replied lightly, holding up the lunarite between his thumb and forefinger. “I can’t think of anything to top all that.” He paused and then fixed Mal with a stern look. “But if you had them put an ‘over the hill’ candle on my cupcake, you’re dead meat, Saltzman.”

Mal held up his hands defensively. “No over-the-hill jokes, I promise!” he replied, and Aidan suddenly heard the sound of clapping. The entire staff of the coffee shop surrounded their table, one of them holding a plate with a chocolate cupcake with mocha icing—his favorite—topped with a single white candle. Mal led them in a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday,” his deep baritone louder than the rest combined.

It was no less than Aidan expected from someone as sentimental as Mal, who had seemed shocked and dismayed to learn that Aidan’s childhood birthdays hadn’t been filled with cake and ice cream, festooned with balloons, and celebrated with romping clowns. He doubted this was the kind of glamorous birthday celebration that the socialites of Seattle would have expected him to have, but it was the kind he wanted, and as he carefully put his little piece of the moon back in its box, he considered this to be a happy birthday indeed.

3 thoughts on “Holiday Story #1: On the Rocks

  1. But, now, if we particularly want sales royalties to go to you and not just the publisher, we should still hold off until January, correct?

    *innocent face*

  2. Nope! As long as you buy the individual story (which is available as of today!) rather than the Advent package, we get the royalties.

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