“Thank Christ you called me when you did.” Frankie shook his head, his movement lagging a bit over his cousin’s shitty internet connection.
I leaned in closer to the camera, as though that might somehow convey just how desperate I was. “You don’t have to tell me that. There are two weeks left and I haven’t had time to get any plans in place. I’m scrambling.”
“Just cancel it. If you don’t have time to make it fucking fabulous, it’s not worth doing—and I have my doubts that anything in that town could be fucking fabulous.”
“I can’t cancel it.”
“You haven’t invited anyone yet,” he pointed out.
I sighed, trying to think of a way to make Frankie understand how important this was to me. “I don’t mean canceling would be difficult logistically. I mean I’m not willing to do that. Gage’s birthday falling the day before Christmas Eve… he’s never had a proper celebration.”
“He’s a grown-ass man. He doesn’t need funfetti cake and party hats.”
I laughed. “Coming from the guy who baked a funfetti cake for his own half-birthday…”
Frankie grinned, but his tone turned serious. “Yeah, but you know Gage. You know he’s not the type of guy for revelry and festivity. He’s the kind of guy who grumbles about Karen in accounting bringing cupcakes in for no reason.”
I opened my mouth to protest, but he had, in fact, mentioned something about the food waste from the last staff party we’d had.
“He doesn’t know what he’s missing out on.”
“Judging from your plans, he never will.”
“You’ve been living in Buttfuck Frozen Nowhere for way too long if you think some bullshit game night out at your secluded—and probably haunted—house makes for an entertaining party.”
“Excuse me, but we had everyone out for Thanksgiving and that was a total success.”
“Except for the part where you caused the dissolution of a relationship.”
“That had nothing to do with me. And it was temporary. Jackson and Logan are doing great.”
“So fucking glad to hear it.”
It was barely there, but I’d known Frankie long enough that I could detect the slight bitterness, and I couldn’t help but feel for him. I knew how lonely he was, that his life was nothing more than passing time through empty days—temp jobs and temp housing.
Nothing in his life was permanent, and once upon a time he probably would have preferred it that way, but Frankie had changed since I’d met him. The difference was subtle, but it was there. I wasn’t sure he was the kind of guy who wanted to settle down, but I had been just like him until Gage had walked into my life—or I had walked into his.
Not for the first time, I began to make a mental inventory of all the gay and eligible men I knew. Since I’d abandoned life in New York, I didn’t know anyone there anymore, and the list of guys in Sawyer’s Ferry was practically nonexistent.
“You are so goddamn lucky I’m your friend,” Frankie said, breaking me out of my mental matchmaking as he squared his shoulders and sat up a little straighter. “I am going to save this party for you.”
“Eternally fortunate,” I said. I might have sounded sarcastic, but when it came to friendships, there wasn’t anybody better than Frankie. He’d supported me through some pretty crazy shit in our tenure as buddies. “You sure you can’t make it out for the party?”
“Is there a less offensive way to say ‘I’d rather insert my dick into Gia’s Vitamix than spend time in Sawyer’s Ferry’?”
“I don’t think Gia would be all that happy to have dick chunks in her green smoothies.” I cringed. “I’m getting you out here one day, though. Mark my words.”
“I ain’t marking shit, Prescott.”
I frowned. “We’ll see. For now, I guess I’ll have to be satisfied with the experience of your heavy sarcasm from a distance.”
“I do what I can,” Frankie said. “And what I can do is tell you to scrap the idea of having it at your place.”
“For starters, unless that small party includes a bowl of keys or a treasure chest full of sex toys, no one wants to be at that party.”
I rolled my eyes, and he rolled his right back. “So what do you suggest, then?”
“If you want this to be an event to remember, you’re going to have to think a little bigger. You need a venue. And booze. Lots of booze.”
I thought for a second. There weren’t a lot of places in town that would work. “I could talk to Jane about having it at Whisky J’s.”
“The best bar there, right?”
“The only bar here,” I confirmed. “But surprisingly decent.”
“It’ll have to do. Better than having it at some fucking legion hall or something like he’s a fucking retiree… though… that might be fitting. He is getting up there in years.”
“He’d kill you if he heard you say that.”
“Is he wearing those supportive briefs yet that keep his balls from drooping to his knees? If not, that might be a good option for a gift.”
“Great idea. I’ll tell him they’re from you.”
Frankie cackled. “Perfect. He can think of me every time the fabric shifts and rubs against his dick.”
I ignored the last comment. “I’m going to head into town this afternoon. I’ll talk to Jane and see if she’ll let us host the party at J’s.”
“And let her know you’ll be needing at least one signature cocktail.”
I tried to imagine Gage sipping some fruity, rainbow garnished drink, but I just couldn’t see it.
“We’ll see about that one. What else?” My pen was poised over the notepad, ready to write down suggestions that might be useful.
“Does he have a favorite band? You could get them to do the music.”
“You’re forgetting we’re not hosting the party in New York… and how much do you think the hospital here pays me? Besides, I don’t think Bowie’s making a special trip back from the other side to play a birthday gig in the middle of small-town Alaska.”
“Fine, DJ it is. But make sure they have a list of Gage’s favorites.”
“That can definitely be arranged.”
We chatted—or rather I listened to Frankie brainstorm out loud—for another half an hour. I was grateful for his suggestions, no matter how outlandish they were. When I’d originally come up with the idea to throw Gage a party, I thought it would be a piece of cake—no pun intended—to throw something together he would love.
After all, I knew him better than anyone else on the planet.
But once I’d started trying to come up with ideas, it had turned out to be more difficult than I’d been prepared for. I’d been to a thousand fancy parties back in New York. My father had thrown all sorts of fundraisers and benefits, dinner parties and cocktail hours. But transplanting the New York party scene to small-town Alaska wasn’t all that easy. And with Sawyer’s Ferry all decked out for the holiday season, it was tough to keep it from transforming into a holiday party.
I loved Christmas, and there was nothing better than the holidays in Sawyer’s Ferry, but I wanted this night to be about Gage. There’d be time for mistletoe and presents later. So, I was beyond fortunate that Frankie seemed to be an everlasting well of concepts when it came to event planning.
“I gotta go,” Frankie said, tossing an exasperated sigh over his shoulder. “Gia needs me to watch her gremlin children while she runs to the store.”
“I should run too. My list of shit to get done just grew by ten, and I’ve only got a couple of weeks to do it. Glad to hear you’re still enjoying crashing with your cousin, though.”
“Living the dream!” he said before his image disappeared from the screen.
“Was that Frankie?” Gage’s voice came from behind me.
“Shit, you scared me.” A shot of adrenaline rushed through me at the thought that he might have overheard us talking about the party. “What are you doing home?”
Gage crossed the room and collapsed on the couch beside me, then lifted his feet onto the coffee table and pulled me into his arms. The glow from the lights on our Christmas tree made everything feel kind of soft for a moment. “Logan got to the hospital early, so I took off. Thought we could do something today. Grab lunch at the Starlight or something?”
“Uh…” Lying, particularly on the fly, did not come easily to me. Lying to Gage was especially difficult. “I’ve actually got some running around I need to do this afternoon. Errands. Totally boring.” I extracted myself from his grasp.
Gage grinned and smacked my ass. “I’ll come with you. We can grab lunch while we’re in town.”
My stomach rumbled at the thought of food, but I didn’t have time for Rosemary’s holiday mac and cheese. I needed to visit Jane and start figuring out what I was going to do to make this an event for Gage to remember, which meant I needed to come up with an excuse for why he couldn’t tag along.
“I… uh… I just ate.” Gage opened his mouth, and I knew another brilliant idea was about to come spewing out, so I quickly interjected. “Like I said, it’ll be boring. Why don’t I grab a pizza from Pacey’s on my way home, and we can plant ourselves on the sofa for the evening? Watch a Christmas movie? You said you’ve never seen Christmas Vacation, like a fucking heathen.”
With one smooth movement, Gage grabbed me, sitting down and pulling me into his lap. My thighs straddled his as he leaned in, licking a path from my collarbone, up my throat to the sensitive spot behind my ear, and I suddenly found it very difficult to remember why I needed to leave the house.
“Or you could run your errands tomorrow and we could get a head start on that sofa time now.” It came out as almost a growl, and I couldn’t help the shiver that ran through me. “We’re both off all weekend, and I have plans for you.”
“Yep. And those plans include very little vertical activity.”
His hands were stroking my back while his mouth drove me insane as he planted kisses all along the underside of my jaw. It felt so good to have his hands on me that I struggled to form coherent thoughts. It never got any less surprising how quickly he could turn me from normal, everyday Holden, to a breathless puddle of molten man in his arms.
“I gotta go,” I finally managed.
He dropped his hands and gave an exasperated sigh.
“I’ll be back later,” I promised, ignoring the thick erection tenting his pants as I climbed off him.