Home for the Holidays


The cool night air sent a frigid chill down Jake’s spine, a feeling that was heightened by the thin layer of sweat that covered his body. It was blisteringly cold outside, and he couldn’t wait nervously in his car any longer. The windows were fogged up, his down coat was pumping his sweat glands into overdrive, and it was ten minutes past the hour—about as fashionably late as his OCD would allow him to be.

As the initial shock of the cold dissipated, Jake looked around the empty parking lot. One or two cars were pulled up right next to the dirty chrome siding panels of the diner; otherwise, the place was as vacant as could be for a weeknight two days before Christmas. That was fine with Jake, though. It was his first-time back home in almost ten years, and the thought of running into anyone from his previous life in Castorville made him sick to his stomach.

A lot had changed in the last decade. Not with the town; that would always be the same. But Jake had settled into a lifestyle that would still be treated as a criminal offense in that part of the country, and he wasn’t too keen on his family or any ghosts from his past discovering that part about him. Still, men his age had a tendency to get horny from time to time, and Jake couldn’t bear the thought of suffering through the holidays with his family with a nutsack full of pent-up sexual frustration.

He coddled his hands together, blew a fresh wave of moist heat into their core, and headed for the door.

Inside the diner, the harsh yellow lighting made the walls look a dingy brown, as if they hadn’t been painted since the establishment had opened seventy years prior. A middle-aged woman with firecracker-red hair tied up in a bun and a stained white uniform that looked as old as the building looked up from the two elderly gentlemen she was conversing with at the counter. She saw it was just him and yelled, “Sit anywhere you like. I’ll be with you in a moment,” before turning back to the men and cackling an obnoxious laugh from deep within her smoker-lungs.

Jake’s eyes lingered on the three individuals before turning and staring up the row of booths that lined the front windows. He passed a few and then sat facing away from the door, tucking his coat in between himself and the wall. Outside, the snow fell gently in the glow of the streetlamp. Jake watched it float effortlessly on the air, taking his mind away from his nerves.

He always got nervous before meeting someone new. It wasn’t just when he met other men for sexual encounters; it was anyone new. But things were especially bad that evening, for if there was anything that made him more nervous than meeting guys for sex, it was coming back home. Put the two together and it was no wonder his hands were as sweaty as they were. He wiped them on his pants just as the waitress appeared from behind him.

“What can I get ya?” the waitress asked.

“I—I’m waiting on someone,” Jake forced out.

“How about a drink while you wait?” she offered.

“Sure. A Diet Coke would be nice.”

The waitress turned and walked away without another sound. Moments later, she came back and dropped a plastic cup of fizzing Diet Coke in front of him, then tossed a straw on the table next to it. She set two menus at the edge of the table and said, “Well, the name’s Cherry. If you need anything, holler. If not, I’ll check back in when your friend gets here.”

“Thanks,” Jake muttered, but she was already gone.

He looked around the restaurant, back at the two men sitting at the counter, as if they might be someone that recognized him. Jake certainly didn’t recognize them, but in a small suburb like Castorville, there was a good chance that somehow or other one could trace a connection between the men back to his parents. It was just that kind of town. He might not know them, but that didn’t mean they wouldn’t know Jack and Cindy’s kid if they bumped into him. He turned away and grabbed a menu, shielding himself from prying eyes that weren’t there.

The door dinged and someone entered. Jake turned quickly to see if it was his date. He didn’t know what the man looked like, only that he was older, a bit heavier, and what the man called average looking. But while the man standing in the door was very attractive, much to Jake’s dismay, it was not his date, but something much worse. He let out a quiet, “Shit,” and retreated back into his menu. “It can’t be,” he said, muttering to the menu as images of his tormented youth came rushing back into his head.

“What’ll it be, Jerry?” the waitress called out.

The man slapped his hands down on the counter near the two men. “Root beer float hold the whipped cream, extra scoop of vanilla, and double the cherry,” he said, giving the older broad a wink.

Cherry swatted him away and reached into the freezer, quickly assembling the dessert. “It’s a cold one out there, Jerry. What are you doing out on a night like this? Ain’t you got family or nothing to be with?”

“And miss bayburt escort the chance to have one of your floats? My family ain’t worth it.”

“You’re too much, dear,” Cherry said. “Now go have a seat and I’ll fix the usual.”

Jake raised the menu up over his face as Jerry made his way along the row of booths. He took the far table against the back wall, the one right next to the jukebox. He dropped a quarter in and punched A17 before sliding into the booth. The old man stripped off his coat and wrapped his hands around his float, gazing out into the blustery night as “I Wonder Why” by Dion & the Belmonts erupted from the box. Jake peered over the menu and watched as the man nodded his head along to the tune.

It had been years since he had seen the old man. Ten years to be exact. Graduation Day, 2010. And the old man was just as good looking as Jake had remembered him. He must’ve been in his late sixties by that point, and the shaggy hair atop his head had gone from a dusty brown to a shiny silver, matching the few stray hairs that poked from beneath his checkered flannel shirt. His waistline had expanded a few sizes too many, but what else could one expect from a retired gym teacher? No longer getting paid to keep kids in shape, Coach Roberts had clearly turned his time and attention to indulging in more than the occasional late night root beer float at the local diner.

But Jake didn’t care. His old coach looked better than ever and, if he weren’t there to meet another old man—who was seriously running late at this point—he would seriously consider trying to find a way into Coach Roberts’ pants. That is, if his nerves would allow it, which he knew they wouldn’t. With that in mind, all he had to do was keep a low enough profile that he wouldn’t have to engage with his former teacher. With any luck, the old man wouldn’t even remember him.

Jake turned around and looked over his shoulder at the door behind him. His date was nowhere to be found. He turned toward the Coca-Cola clock on the wall and saw that it was now half past the hour. He was being stood up. Not all that surprising in a small town like Castorville, but disappointing, nonetheless.

As he turned back toward the front, his eyes locked with the old man’s in front of him. Coach Roberts’ jaw dropped slightly as a wave of surprised recognition drew across his face. He gently lifted his hand and gave Jake a slight wave, the shock turning into a sly grin.

A wave of panic washed over Jake. He had not only been seen, he had been recognized. There went any prospect of his having any fun that night. Hesitantly, he raised his hand above the table and gave his coach an awkward wave back, frantically trying to think of an escape. Then, before things could get any worse, he picked his menu back up and disappeared behind it.

Unfortunately, men the age of Jerry Roberts didn’t understand the concept of seeing someone they knew—no matter how long it had been since they had seen each other—and not wandering over to strike up a conversation. Before Jake knew it, his former coach was standing over him, looking down at him with an astonished smile.

“Jake? Jake Matthews? Is that really you?”

Jake slowly lifted his eyes up from their buried position in his menu and took in the full view of his old teacher. The man was even better looking up close. His perfectly round belly could only be described as breathtaking; the tucked in flannel shirt pulled tightly over it, accentuating its shape and drawing Jake in. The man’s face was clean-shaven and full, a warm and gentle smile lifting his round cheeks up into his twinkling blue eyes.

And just like that, Jake was that fifteen-year-old boy again, new to Castorville Senior High School, the boy too terrified to shower with the other kids after gym class. Coach Roberts had sympathized with him, allowing Jake to stay after class once the others had left. He would even write him a hall pass every time so he wouldn’t be late for his next class. It had meant the world to that terrified freshman—more than the coach ever knew—and it wasn’t long until Jake found himself with his first crush. Of course, if being a closeted-gay teenager wasn’t bad enough, having a crush on his significantly older male teacher certainly sealed the deal. That crush made this encounter all the worse.

It was good seeing him again; it was something he’d never thought he’d get the chance to do. And now, when given the chance to look that man in the eyes once more, he was doing his best to screw it all up. Wiping his hands on his pants once more, he smiled back and said, “Coach Roberts, it’s great to see you!”

“I knew it was you,” he said, waving his finger at the young man. “I just knew it! What brings you back to Castorville? You visiting the folks for Christmas?”

“Yes, Coach Roberts,” Jake replied, trying to be polite.

Coach Roberts shook his head. “Please, only my students call me that. Call me Jerry.”

“I bilecik escort don’t think I can do that,” Jake replied.

“Yeah, it’s easy for you kiddos to forget us teachers are real people with lives outside of the school. So, what are you doing in this dump anyway?”

“Hey!” Cherry yelled from behind the counter. She had clearly been listening to their conversation. “You better watch it.”

Jerry turned to the waitress. “You know I love you, Cher.”

“You best start acting like it,” she said, turning toward the kitchen. “Calling my place a dump . . .” Her voice trailed off as she disappeared from view.

Jake waited until she was gone. “I—I’m meeting a friend.”

Jerry cocked his head. “It isn’t Zach, is it? Zach Biggsby?”

Jake didn’t really expect to be questioned further on the matter, but Coach had given him the perfect alibi, so he quickly lied. “Yes.” Zach was his best friend from high school—one of the only other mid-grade losers the same level as he had been—and the only other person to know about Jake’s crush on his teacher. Jake was even more surprised that Coach Roberts had remembered the two were friends.

“I always did enjoy watching the two of you in class. You weren’t very good at sports, were you?” he said through a hearty laugh. “But you tried, which is more than I can say for 90% of the other students.”

Jake nodded, before asking, “What are you doing here, Coach—I mean, Jerry.”

Jerry looked around the diner and saw how empty it was. “Well, I was supposed to be meeting a friend, too, but it looks like he’s a no-show.”

“Same here,” Jake shrugged, his hopes for release dying. It was going to be a long holiday after all.

“Well,” Jerry said, looking out the window. “No sense waiting around any longer. Should probably get home before the storm comes in.” Then, an idea hit him. “Say, since it looks like we both got stood up, care to get our burgers to go? We can have a beer or two at my place. That is, unless you’ve got somewhere to be.”

The thought intrigued Jake. Spending any time alone with Coach Roberts thrilled and terrified him at the same time. Still, until tonight, he never really thought he’d see his old teacher again; he certainly didn’t expect to be invited to his house! It would be nice to share his presence once more, even if the encounter would only leave him sorrier that he hadn’t had a good release before the holidays. He, too, looked outside. The snow was beginning to fall at a steady pace. As much as he liked the idea, getting home was probably the more responsible thing to do.

Before he could speak, his stomach growled. He was hungry, and a beer would be nice. What the hell? No reason to let a bad night get any worse. “Sure,” he said. “That could be fun.”

The old coach’s face lit up. “Great.” He turned to the counter and yelled, “Hey Cher, make it a double!” Then, turning back to Jake, he said, “Why don’t you ride with me. That way we can stop by the store and get something to drink. I’ll bring you back after.”

“Sounds good to me,” Jake replied.

After Cherry brought out the double order of Coach Roberts’ usual—a double diner burger with a sunny-side up egg and bacon, waffle fries, and the root beer float—he slapped a twenty and a ten on the table and grabbed the food. “Merry Christmas, Cher,” he said, raising the food in an effort to wave. “See you Sunday.”

“Take care, sweetie,” she called after, as Jake and Coach Roberts disappeared into the snowy night.

Coach Roberts drove an old, faded-blue Chevy pick-up truck that looked and sounded as if he had bought it the year he started teaching . . . whenever that had been. The heater was kind enough to just take the bite out of the air, but if you wanted actual heat, you were out of luck.

“It’ll just be a minute,” Jerry said. “The gas station isn’t far, and I’m just around the corner after that.”

Jake nodded and muttered that it was fine.

“Got a preference on alcohol? We don’t have to get beer if you’d prefer something harder.”

“Beer is fine,” Jake replied, his hands starting to sweat once more. He had never been alone with Coach Roberts before. Not outside of school anyway. It was . . . strange. “I occasionally have some whiskey, but—”

“Whiskey?” the coach exclaimed. “You don’t strike me as a whiskey guy.”

“I only like the pecan pie whiskey. The one made out at Hubert Farms.”

“How festive. I’ve never had the stuff, but I’ll drink anything.” Jerry reached down between his legs to the bag of food sitting on the floor. He nestled his hand inside and pulled out a few fries, shoving the greasy potatoes into his mouth. “Fry?” he asked through the food.

“No thanks,” Jake said. “I’ll wait till we’re there.”

“Suit yourself,” coach replied through another handful.

They really had been just up the road from the gas station. When they got there, Jerry handed the bag of food to Jake and opened bingöl escort his car door. “I’ll just be a minute,” he said, then shut the door behind him.

Jake sat there, the smell of french fries and burgers wafting through the frigid car. He ran his sweaty hands up his legs, drying them off on his pants. What am I doing? he thought. Somehow, as nervous as he may get in such situations, meeting a stranger in a diner for sex seemed less awkward and nauseating than having dinner and a drink with his old coach. He glanced up at the door to the gas station. They had only driven a mile or two from the diner. He could leave now, and no harm would be done. His hand reached for the door, resting on the handle and he froze in a moment of indecision. As he pondered his predicament, Coach Roberts’ face from the moment he accepted the old man’s invitation appeared in his mind. The man had been so happy at the thought of having a little company for the holidays. Jake knew all too well the feeling of eating alone in a diner; he couldn’t doom the old man to the same fate so close to Christmas. He took his hand off the handle and placed it back on the bag of food.

Moments later, Coach Roberts came scurrying out of the gas station, his hat pulled tightly over his head. The wind was picking up more, and the flurries were making it difficult to see. “Shit,” the old coach said as he got back into the truck, the bottle of whiskey tucked inside his coat. “It’s getting bad out there. You sure you don’t want to just head to your folks’ place? I’d understand.”

There it was. He had an out. “No,” Jake said, though he wasn’t sure how that was the word that came out, as his brain was clearly saying yes. “You just got the whiskey, and the food would be too cold by then. You’re just around the corner, right?”

Coach Roberts smiled big. “Yes sir. Two minutes tops.”

“Then let’s get going,” Jake said, wiping his hands once more. “I’m hungry.”

Jerry Roberts lived outside of the town center of Castorville, just off the main drag, about three blocks up from the high school. His house was an all-brick, one-and-a-half story home built soon after World War II, when his parents had flocked to the suburbs like so many other Bay City residents at the time. A sidewalk connected the street to the concrete steps up to the porch. Beneath the door sat a welcome mat decorated with the patterned black and brown bean of Castorville Oilers.

Jake hadn’t seen his old school’s mascot in a long time, and now that he was a decade removed from the institution, having a giant bean for a mascot seemed a little lame. But, when half the town was employed by the largest castor oil manufacturer in the state—and the rival school from one team over just happened to have a mole as their mascot—the bean was somehow fitting.

“Here we are,” Jerry said, unlocking the front door. “Right this way.” He pushed his way inside and slipped his shoes off on the matt next to the door. “If you wouldn’t mind . . .”

Jake did the same, slipping his shoes off as his eyes wandered around the room. He had never expected to see the inside of Coach Roberts’ home. The feeling was a bit strange. Then, he removed his coat, which Jerry took from him and dropped on the rack.

“It’s not much,” Jerry said, “but it’s home.”

The front door opened into a wood-floored dining room that spilled directly into the living room. Both were quaint, decorated largely with antique wooden furniture that had once belonged to Jerry’s parents. Jerry led him through each room and up the hallway. “Just got to grab some plates and tumblers for the whiskey, and then we’ll head back up front to the table.”

Jake watched as his old coach opened cabinets and collected the dishes. To his right, there were two open doors. One led to the bathroom; the other was Coach Roberts’ bedroom. A queen-sized bed stood in the center; clothes decorated the floor. Near the dresser, Jake could faintly make out a pair of white briefs almost glowing in the darkness. A vision of him picking them up, holding them in his hands, raising them to his face filled his thoughts.

“Spoon?” Jerry asked.

“Huh?” Jake muttered, turning from his salacious thoughts.

“For the float.”

“Oh, right. Sure,” Jake responded, taking the spoon.

They returned to the dining room and ate their burgers, losing track of time as they talked about what each other had been up to for the past ten years. It was quite pleasant, and Jake soon found himself easing into the situation, for once not letting his stupid nerves get in the way of a casual conversation. Perhaps it was the endorphins from the food, perhaps it was the whiskey. Whatever it was, Jake was enjoying his time with his former coach, and he was starting to think the night wasn’t a total loss after all.

“So you really became a teacher?” Jerry asked, swirling the whiskey around the glass. “I thought you wanted to write novels or something. You always had your nose in a book.”

“That’s because I wasn’t very popular,” he said, amazed at his coach’s memory. “I did want to write—still do from time to time—but it turns out it’s a bit harder than teenage me thought.” He paused, taking a sip of the whiskey. “You’re actually part of the reason for it,” Jake replied.

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