Diarmud was making himself a sandwich when he heard a knock at his front door. “Coming!” he called as he went out into the narrow hall. He turned the knob and swung the door open, and his green eyes widened as he saw the enormous hunk of man standing on his doorstep…
Huge. The sweater the guy was wearing stretched tight over a massive chest and a pair of broad shoulders. He had that ruggedly handsome kind of face just made to cause both women and gay men to swoon. A lock of dark hair fell across his forehead, making Diarmud want to smooth it back. A pair of blue-hazel eyes met his, and the man smiled dazzlingly. “Diarmud Connelly,” he rumbled in a voice like sex made into sound. He felt a tightening of the muscles in his stomach, and his breathing picked up a little.
“Yes?” he said huskily in a voice gone lower than normal. “Can I help you?” Please God, let me be able to help you with something, anything, he thought fervently.
The enormous hunk shifted a little and shrugged his shoulders. “I hope so. Err…I know this is going to make me sound like a stalker for something, but I’m here because of your nephew, Brendan.”
Diarmud blinked. “Brendan?” he repeated warily. “What about him?”
The other man’s lips twisted into a grimace. “I’m Santa,” he said.
Okay, the gorgeous guy was crazy. Just what he needed. Diarmud eyed him warily, even as he prepared to step backward into the safety of his house and slam the door in this psycho’s face. Seeing his expression, the other man held up his hands defensively. “I don’t mean that I think that I’m the real Santa, since he doesn’t exist,” he began urgently. “I just play Santa. Or I did last week when you took your nephew Brendan to the Dress to Impress Clothing Store. Remember?”
Diarmud stopped in his tracks. “That was you?” he asked incredulously.
The big man smiled ruefully. “Yeah. My sister owns that store, and her Santa called in sick on her. So I took the job for her instead so she wouldn’t have to pay anybody. I’m a construction foreman, usually,” he added.
Oo, a man who worked with his hands. And such big hands, too, Diarmud thought as he eyed them. The better to touch you with…he drew himself together at last. “All right, so you played Santa that day. What does this have to do with me or Brendan?”
“Well, when your nephew sat on my lap he asked me for something,” the man began.
Diarmud nodded impatiently. “Yes, a Wii. Which he’ll be getting. But I still don’t see…”
“He asked me for something else, too,” the big man replied hurriedly. “Something for you. For Christmas.”
Surprised, Diarmud just stared up at him. “Brendan asked you for something for me?” he said in astonishment. “What?”
A crooked, self-deprecating smile. “He asked Santa to bring you a boy to kiss for Christmas.”
Shocked silence. Diarmud gaped at him in disbelief. “Brendan…? Asked for a boy….Oh, holy God,” he muttered, putting up a hand to rub at his forehead. “I don’t believe it.”
“It’s true, though. He did. He said that ‘Uncle Toby moved to California without Uncle Diarmud, and now he’s sad’, and then he asked me to bring him a boy for you to kiss for Christmas.”
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,” Diarmud breathed. “The little beggar. I didn’t even know that he’d noticed. And to go asking Santa for a boy for me to kiss…Wait a minute. So he asked you for that. Why did you come to my door?” he asked in puzzlement.
The big man looked rather nervous. “Well, because his request was like a gift from heaven for me,” he explained rather sheepishly. “See, I thought you were the cutest guy that I’d ever seen when you came up with Brendan in the store. But I thought that you were his dad, so I didn’t have a shot. Then your nephew said that you were his uncle, and that was better…but that didn’t mean that you liked guys. So when Brendan asked me for a boy for you to kiss for Christmas…I wanted to give you just what he’d asked for. Umm…me, that is,” he said, waving a hand at himself. “I know that sounds horribly stupid and stalker-ish, but I just couldn’t help myself. If you want to call the police now, I’ll understand. But I was hoping, really hoping, that you…go out with me?”
Diarmud was silent long enough that the big man began to visibly sweat. Then he took a deep breath and let it out in a sigh. “Now that,” he began, “Has to be the most amazing, romantic, and sweet thing I’ve ever heard in my entire life. Sure, I’ll go out with you. If…” he held up one slim finger, making the other man look anxious again, “You tell me what your name is,” he added with a gamin grin.
The stranger heaved a sigh of relief. “It’s Garreth,” he replied. “Garreth Poole.”
“Well, Garreth Poole, where exactly will you be taking me?” Diarmud asked.
Foregoing the obvious (and crude) answers to such a question, Garreth smiled at him happily. “To one of my favorite places,” he said. “But I won’t tell you anymore, because I want it to be a surprise.”
“Fine, then. How about tomorrow night? You can come and pick me up. And Heaven help me if you turn out to be a stalker after all.”
“A pub?!” Diarmud exclaimed, looking around the interior of the building they’d just entered. There was a lot of dark wood, including a long bar. Mirrors were hung on the wall behind it, and the pictures on the walls all had an Irish theme.
Garreth grinned. “Yeah. I love this place. The guy who owns it emigrated from Ireland about thirty years ago. He only serves ales not beer, and no mixed drinks. Claims they're for sissies. It’s pretty popular with about half the population of the city, since this IS Chicago. Guess it makes all of those children of Irish immigrants feel right at home.”
Diarmud shook his head as they made their way over to one of the small round tables. “And I’ll just bet they have sing-alongs every Friday night, with a repertoire that includes ‘When Irish Eyes Are Smiling’, and ‘Oh, Danny Boy’,” he said scathingly.
“I wouldn’t know about that,” Garreth remarked doubtfully. “Since I don’t come here on Fridays. My crew and I usually go to a working man’s bar for beers to wind down our week. We watch a basketball game on the TV and make bets on whose going to win. Besides, would that be so bad? A sing-along, I mean?”
Diarmud snorted. “It wouldn’t be if they sang traditional Irish songs, not traditional AMERICAN songs that pass as Irish songs,” he replied.
“Oh, I see. My family is originally from England, as you can tell by my name. That sometimes makes me pretty unpopular around here,” he added with a crooked smile.
Diarmud shrugged. “I’ve no quarrel with you. And the Irish-Americans shouldn’t either, as they have it far better over here than they do in Ireland. They should thank the English landlords for kicking them off their lands and making them come over here instead. More opportunities and a better life rather than starving to death or eating nothing but potatoes.”
“But it was the English landlords’ fault that the poor Irish people were eating nothing but potatoes in the first place,” Garreth pointed out.
“I suppose. So tell me, what drinks are we going to order? And if you say Guinness, I shall have to hurt you severely,” he went on mock-threateningly.
Garreth chuckled. “Nope. I thought some fine Irish whiskey. Sound good to you?”
“Great,” Diarmud replied. “Thanks.”
“I’ll be right back,” Garreth got up to go over to the bar and order their whiskeys.
Diarmud watched him go. He still couldn’t quite believe that he was out on a date with such a side of pure, grade A beef. Although if the guy had just been eye candy, he might not have been so enthusiastic about this date. But he wasn’t. Garreth Poole was obviously a romantic, something that seemed a bit odd but also very sweet in a rugged man who worked construction. His story about how he’d decided to make Brendan’s wish come true because he’d fallen for Diarmud on sight….Lord, how could you resist that? It made him go all mushy inside. Irishmen were romantics, too, after all. While he‘d have to wait and see, he was hopeful about how this would all turn out.
Garreth came back with two cut glass tumblers full of amber liquid in his big hands. “Here we are,” he said, setting one down in front of Diarmud. “The good stuff.” He settled carefully into the chair across from Diarmud, sipping at his own glass appreciatively.
Diarmud took a small drink, savoring the rich taste. It flowed smoothly down his throat. “Tell me,” he asked with a twinkle in his sea-green eyes, “Are you trying to get me drunk? Then you’ll take advantage of me?”
Garreth looked flustered. “No!” he protested vigorously. “I just thought you’d like this place, seriously…”
Diarmud giggled, a charming sight that took his breath away,. “I’m just teasing you, Garreth,” he said when he could speak. “But could we go and get something to eat in a bit? I’m starving.”
“Sure,” Garreth replied. “I could use some food too. Any suggestions about where you want to go?”
“I know this nice little restaurant that serves the best Russian food in town,” Diarmud said.
Garreth’s brows shot up. “Russian food?!” he exclaimed.
Diarmud grinned. “Sure and why not? Unless you don’t like Russian, in which case we can go somewhere else.”
“Well, I don’t think I’ve ever been to a Russian restaurant,” Garreth mused. “It might be nice to try something new, and if you say it’s good…”
“Trusting soul, aren’t you?” Diarmud said, with the twinkle in his eyes even more pronounced.
“Not always, but I’ve decided to trust you. So if you lead me astray, it’ll be your fault,” Garreth pointed out amiably.
“Fair enough. So what would you like to talk about now?”
“Tell me all about yourself,” Garreth replied promptly. “I want to know everything.”
Diarmud grinned. “Everything, eh? Well, my family immigrated here when I was eight. We had relatives already living here who offered to take us in. We were very poor; we lived in a hovel in Ireland in the poorest part of Belfast. My parents were terrified that we boys would grow up and become terrorists, trying to blow up Englishmen. So when our cousins sent us money to come here, they jumped at the chance. My father went to work for his cousin right away, and we finally had some money. It was wonderful. To go from wearing rags and eating next to nothing to having a nice house, warm clothes and plenty of food…it was like heaven. And there were so many Irish-American families in our neighborhood that we didn’t feel isolated or scared at being in a strange country. I had a wonderful childhood after that, and when I graduated from high school I went college with scholarships from Irish-American societies. I studied History and English, and when I graduated I went to work for my cousin too while I toiled away at my first book. It’s taken awhile, but I finally became solvent in my writing.”
“You’re a writer?” Garreth asked. “Wow, that’s interesting. What do you write? What genre?”
“I write historical novels set in ancient Ireland,” Diarmud replied. “They’ll never be amazingly popular, but I make enough to live fairly well. Especially since colleges teaching Irish history have some of them on their reading lists. As for my personal life…well, I’m gay obviously. I lived with a guy named Toby, the ‘uncle Toby’ that Brendan told you about, for over two years. He’s a musician, though, and he felt it was his calling to move to California and try to make it big. He wanted me to go with him, but I wasn’t having any of it. Chicago is my home. What the hell would I do in California? I don’t even like it out there – I’ve been a few times, and I hated it. Too hot, and smoggy, and phony…everyone has real or fake tans, and teeth that are too white, and dyed hair. The women all have breast implants and faces that won’t move for being Botoxed half to death. It’s horrible.”
“Well, I’m glad that you stayed,” Garreth remarked. “Otherwise you wouldn’t have brought your nephew to my sister's clothing store to see Santa.”
Diarmud shook his head. “The little scamp,” he said in wry fondness. “I took him to see Santa so that he’d tell me what I should buy him for Christmas. I never imagined that he’d ask Santa for something for me too…”
“Well, he obviously really loves you. And he notices a lot, too, I can tell. What is he? Six, seven?”
“Seven, the wretch. And yes, its amazing what children notice. He saw that I was unhappy about Toby moving away, so he decided to take matters into his own hands. For which I shall thank him,” he added with a smile directed at Garreth.
“Me too,” the big man said fervently. “Me, too.”
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